On the 1st of May 2000 I am on duty investigating a routine job – death threats spoken six hours earlier.
I am ambushed by a deranged man and shot in the face and shoulder. I survive and commence a long seven-year road of complex surgeries to physical recovery. But I also start to experience dreams, anxiety, hyperarousal, flashbacks, anger… I think, 'I'm going crazy, there is something wrong with me!'
So, I tell no one. I do not want to be ostracised and labelled a psycho, lunatic or 504 (police job code for 'mental illness'). I am then introduced to Chris Manktelow. Decades earlier as a 19-year-old infantryman, Chris was on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam – point man for his platoon. He trips a boobytrap which showers his torso with shrapnel and he nearly loses his right leg. Chris physically recovers but suffers Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He seeks help and in time goes on to become a psychologist.
Chris has walked the walk of extreme trauma, physically and psychologically, and now as a mental health professional in 2000, he builds trust with me.
In one session he shares – 'I've been there mate, I've had the gun in my mouth, finger on the trigger, ready to end my life, but it does not have to be like that!' I open up, telling him what is really going on with my mental health. Chris is able to make me understand, my psychological reaction to the shooting is a normal response to a very abnormal event, which influences my decision to seek long term treatment for chronic PTSD.
It's time to end the stigma which has surrounded mental health for centuries – a mental health injury or illness is just as real and treatable as a physical one, and should receive the same respect, empathy and compassion. Asking for help, following professional mental health guidance, a nutritious diet, regular exercise, pursuing your passions, and a social and supportive network of family and friends, are the foundations to build and maintain sound mental health.
You can see these attributes at work in my life in this short film dedicated to suicide prevention.