Speaking out to shine a light on mental health
A FORMER detective is helping to break the silence around mental health by sharing insights into his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
After joining the NSW Police Force in 1987, Craig Semple had a meteoric rise through the ranks, becoming a detective within four years.
Specialising in criminal investigations, Mr Semple was exposed to hundreds of traumatic incidents and regularly encountered despair and destruction through high level involvement in drug investigations.
In 1998, trauma touched closer to home when his brother - who had followed him into the force - was seriously injured when stabbed by a drug dealer.
Mr Semple said a culture of having to "toughen up" was ingrained in the force as a form of dealing with the after-effects of trauma.
"I developed an ability to push down feelings and to get on with the job," he said.
"I lasted because I was physically big, strong and intimidating and eventually I feared nothing and no one."
In 2004, Mr Semple began to develop PTSD following a string of major investigations and personal confrontations with outlaw motorcycle gang members.
"For nine years I largely kept my worsening mental health a secret," he said.
"I was terrified of what was happening to me and due to the stigma of mental illness I didn't want it to destroy a career I loved."
He said work became his coping mechanism.
"It helped to bury my symptoms and as my illness worsened I found myself seeking out increasingly difficult and dangerous challenges," he said.
Among those, was leading the investigation into the Newcastle Knights which led to the NRL doping scandal.
Overlapping this was his final and most dangerous investigation in his career.
Alongside two other detectives, Mr Semple took on an entire chapter of the Lone Wolf motorcycle gang, resulting in the arrest of more than 20 members.
"It was the final straw in my battle with mental illness," he said.
"I was so completely burnt out from pressure and personal danger that I had nothing left to fight with."
Within two months, Mr Semple's mental health deteriorated.
He was admitted to Westmead Traumatic Stress Clinic for intense treatment and a three year "rollercoaster of breakdowns and recoveries" almost claimed his own life.
He said he became determined to turn the negative experience into a positive one.
Earlier this year, he become a volunteer speaker with the Black Dog Institute to help broaden people's awareness of mental health.
"People have said I was the last person they thought this would happen to and that's one of the reasons I feel compelled to speak about it," he said.
"My battle is continuing, but the Black Dog Institute has given me a sense of purpose.
"There are so many people who are isolated, don't know where to turn to, or think that what they're going through is unique.
"The talks are about raising awareness, understanding signs of symptoms, building resilience and knowing how to seek help."
Mr Semple has presented talks at Woolgoolga High School and local forums, as well as other locations around NSW.
"There is no magic cure but if people are educated and talk a bit more about it then it can be reduced," he said.
Visit the Black Dog Institute website for fact sheets, self-help tests and to book guest speakers.
THE TIME FOR AWARENESS
MENTAL Health Month is a national campaign held throughout October each year, and today it coincides with World Mental Health Day.
This year's theme is "value your mind" - encouraging people to think about how mental health exists in our daily lives.
Almost half of all Australian adults are affected by mental illness at some time in their life but through appropriate support and treatment, the majority recover well and are able to lead fulfilling lives in the community.
Help and information is available through services including SANE Australia, beyondblue and Lifeline.