Conversations about suicide - John's story

S1: I was a Sydney policeman for 30 years, and it's just part of the work that you see a lot of people that have passed away one way or another. And in some of those cases, people have taken their own life. But the thing that affected me the most was a colleague who... I wasn't there when it happened. I learned about it later. And it affected me, and it affected everyone at work. I think in the case of this guy, he... Everyone just really liked him, and he seemed to have no troubles in the world.

S1: Even afterwards, and he's been gone now for 13 years, and we still think everything was going so great for him, and we never saw any reason why... He didn't even seem to be unhappy, or he just seemed to be a typical guy. He was at home, and it was within our area, and we sent out the police to the house, and the rest of us came to work, and we really struggled with it for a long time, that night, and for months afterwards.

S1: In the police, we have a flag, state flag at the front of the station, and a lot of the police wanted the flag put to half mast, I guess out of respect. And I was one of the more senior guys, and I went to the boss and said, "Hey, can we put the flag down, like to half mast?" And he said, "Yeah, you do it." And he did, and that mollified the troops a lot, and it made a big difference to them.

S2: So what kind of sense have you made of that, in that time? 

S1: We spent a lot of time, obviously, asking ourselves why, and how this could have happened. Why we hadn't have been in a position, I guess, to provide any support, or help, or recognize any warning signs.

S2: John, I wonder if you can tell us what role your kind of friends and family network played for you.

S1: I should certainly say, my family didn't provide a lot of support because they couldn't, because they didn't know. And I suppose, like a lot of adults, and I guess a lot of dads, I'd always come home, and it wouldn't matter what had happened at work. If my wife said to me, "How was your day? ," I'd say, "My day was fine." Friends, on the other hand, most of my friends were work colleagues, and they get it, and we can talk, and they provide good support, such as they can. I guess there's a... Maybe on some blokey-bloke level, you can only provide so much, but I think it's critical. And a lot of police, I think, recognize this, and I certainly do, that when someone does need your support, you've really got to get in there and do it, even when they resist you. Because they'll do what I do, they'll fight it. And they'll tell you everything's alright.

S2: And when people reach out, it might be, it might be in an obscure kind of way. You might not understand the way someone's reaching out, there's probably a reason, even if you don't know what that reason is at the time.

S1: Yeah, and I might not even be able to get to the bottom of it, but at least if we can keep an eye on them, or try and get help, either with their help, or without. Even if I have to go to one of their close friends, or... Look, I'd rather they hated me, and I got them help, than I didn't do anything, and it all ended up badly for them. Yeah, that's... And some people might say it's sticking your nose in, or interfering in their lives, but I think if their life's got to that point, then they probably need some help, because they're not able to do it for themselves.

S1: I can't even presume to know what he was... What was going on in his head, but I think what... The only thing is what must've been going on in his head is that he had no other choice. And I think if someone thinks they've got no other choice, they really needed help, because there's always another choice, and there's always another choice besides taking your own life.