Lance was working as a Senior Detective and Police Negotiator, a high stress high stakes job – talking people off bridges, talking guns out of people’s hands. But, that amount of pressure takes it toll and like lots of NZ men, Lance suffered a burnout.

You may have seen Lance Burdett on the news lately, or heard him on the radio, or read about him in the newspapers. Lance has become a NZ Police spokesperson for hostage negotiations and other issues since he left the police in 2014, and the morning we met up with him was just after the armed incident in the Bay of Plenty. He was busy, tired, and was starting to worry about his own wellbeing.

Like many men in New Zealand, Lance had experienced bouts of depression, and in 1999 suffered a “burnout”.  After seeking treatment, he’s back on track, but like many people who have been in similar situations, he needs to keep an eye out for the signs and make a proactive effort to stay well.

In 1999, Lance was working as a Senior Detective and had just started as a Police Negotiator.  A high stress high stakes job – talking people off bridges, talking guns out of people’s hands, saving people who were intent on committing suicide, getting them out of situations alive. He is proud to say, he had a 100% success rate over his 13-year career as a crisis negotiator.

But, that amount of pressure takes it toll.

The first sign for him, says Lance, was “cutting himself off from those around him”.  At the time, people around him didn’t seem to notice. But he stopped making conversation at work, he went straight home after work to hide away, and he avoided all social functions, making excuses not to go.

When Lance looked out the window at work one day and thought “That’s not high enough”, something in his brain clicked over.  He thought how much his family meant to him.  Then it dawned on him that something was not right in his head, and whatever it was, it wasn’t going to fix itself.

Through his employer, he made an appointment to see a psychologist who set him homework – tasks to fix his thoughts.

It wasn’t a quick fix.  Lance committed to about 10 sessions, one every two weeks. “For it to work, you really need to want to change.  You have to drive your own recovery, and do the exercises that are recommended”.

Like many people who have been through a similar experience, Lance now knows his triggers, and knows what he needs to do if he feels he is getting unwell.  Which is why on the morning we met, he was planning time to practise a few of his mind exercises on the coming weekend.

Lance is currently writing a book about his experiences as a Police negotiator.  He also teaches negotiation and counter terrorism, and runs corporate workshops on how to engage and communicate with highly emotional people.

If you’re worried about a mate or colleague, Lance’s advice is to be up front, but not confrontational. Say something that invites them to speak.  A simple phrase can make all the difference:

  • “You seem to be a bit down lately, is there something I can help you with?” or
  • “If there’s something on your mind, we can chat about it.” or
  • “I’m here if you need me.”

If something’s up, and they want to get help, reassure them, “You can get through it, I’m here for you”.  You can encourage them to see a doctor, psychologist, or counsellor, and if need be, make the appointment for them. If you’re worried they might hurt themselves, or if you want advice on what to do next, you can call the suicide helpline on 0508 828 865.  They’re trained to help, and can give you information and advice about what to do next.