Former police call for more to be done to address suicide rates in the force

Natalie Whiting reported this story on Wednesday, January 22, 2014 18:38:00

DAVID MARK: Two former police officers who have suffered from post traumatic stress disorder say more needs to be done to address suicide rates in the police force.

Lifeline and Beyond Blue have backed calls for more research into the rates of suicide in various occupations in an attempt to help prevent more self-harm.

Here's Natalie Whiting.

NATALIE WHITING: Craig Campbell was medically discharged from the New South Wales Police Force in 2009, after a severe break down due to post traumatic stress disorder.

CRAIG CAMPBELL: It's a build up over many years. The police, ever since I joined in 1988, it's always been, you know, pump up mate or your debrief was going and drinking alcohol, which, as we all know, is a very strong depressant.

NATALIE WHITING: He believes the stigma surrounding mental illness is stopping officers seeking help.

CRAIG CAMPBELL: When you go to work, you put on this mask because you don't want to be seen to be weak by your peers and there's a lot of peer pressure still in the New South Wales Police that you are seen to be weak if you put your hand up and ask for help.

NATALIE WHITING: Mr Campbell believes there's been almost 30 serving or former police officers commit suicide since 2007.

The New South Wales Police Force disputes the figure, saying it's much lower, but won't give a number.

An attempted suicide by a serving officer in the Illawarra region at Christmas has lead Mr Campbell to call for a Royal Commission.

CRAIG CAMPBELL: I'd like to see at least the police recognise that there is a problem and not try to cover it all.

NATALIE WHITING: Allan Sparkes was a Detective Senior Constable with the New South Wales police and was awarded the Cross of Valour for bravery after rescuing a young boy trapped in a flooded drain pipe in 1996.

In 1998 he was medically discharged from the police force suffering with PTSD and depression.

He says he'd also like to see some kind of an inquiry.

ALLAN SPARKES: I'm concerned about the term royal commission, because that sort of tends to say there's got to be some blame, or something. But there needs to be a government inquiry on a national and international basis to just work out why people develop these illnesses and what can be done to counter them."

NATALIE WHITING: Mr Sparkes says there needs to be more research into the biological causes.

ALLAN SPARKES: What we have missed for so long is learning why the body responds to traumatic events, such as adrenal overload and adrenal fatigue and excessive cortisone levels and those reactions then cause a snowballing effect of deterioration within your physical health, which ultimately leads to a deterioration in mental health, which opens the door to PTSD, depression, anxiety and like-illnesses.

NATALIE WHITING: The CEO of BeyondBlue, Kate Carnell, says the traumatic or life threatening events and stress encountered by police officers means they can be more likely to develop mental health issues.

KATE CARNELL: It's not good enough just to have a debrief after an event, you really need to follow up. A follow up at possibly four weeks, maybe three months and 12 months.

NATALIE WHITING: But she says statistics about suicide in the police force aren't available.

KATE CARNELL: It's interesting trying to get accurate figures in this space and we certainly don't have them, but we know that 33 men die every week in Australia as a result of suicide; we know those figures are higher in areas where workplaces are very stressful, so that would be the police force.

NATALIE WHITING: The CEO of Lifeline, Jane Hayden, agrees that more research is needed.

JANE HAYDEN: I think it would be extremely helpful to have some research into the rates by occupation; we don't have very good data on this in Australia. Having that research and that data gives you a groundwork from then to put in place measures to reduce the suicide rates.

NATALIE WHITING: PM contacted every Australian police force, but no one was available for comment.

DAVID MARK: Natalie Whiting prepared that report.

Help is available. Go and see your doctor, your GP or call Lifeline: 13 11 14.

Audio can be found here
Original Transcript can be read here

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