'One call saved me from ending it all'
A former SERT operative has shared the terrible moment he decided to end his life - describing how he drove to work to carry out a "rehearsed" plan - ahead of an unprecedented emergency services mental health forum to be held today.
And another officer has described the trauma of finding his colleague and best mate dead in a traffic crash - a tragedy that caused him to break down years later.
Both men will share their experiences and battles with depression in front of hundreds of colleagues today at the MenTALL Emergency Services Mental Health Forum in the hope it will help others.
Acting Senior Sergeant Richard Monaei spent 12 years with SERT, Queensland's most highly trained police unit, before a relationship breakdown triggered the collapse of his mental health.
"It was like a volcano that had erupted," he said.
"And it brought me to the point where I was in complete emotional and psychological despair. It got to the point where the only out for me was contemplation of suicide."
Sen Sgt Monaei said he spent six months trying to get help on his own while keeping his struggles a secret from his colleagues at work. He said he would spend hours each day calling Men's Helpline, Beyond Blue and other crisis lines, as well as seeing a psychiatrist.
"I was in so much despair, in such dire need to get some sort of support to help me understand what was happening to me, why I was going down this sinkhole so rapidly," he said.
"Then one morning, after about six months, I jumped out of bed, and I had the clear mindset of exactly what I was going to do that day. And I hopped in the car and drove to work.
"I was literally at the point where I was about to turn into work to go and do the final act.
It was at that moment the psychiatrist he'd been seeing - who he hadn't been in contact with for some time - called to see if he was OK.
"She had a red flag moment and she reached out to me with a phone call. I ended up finding myself sitting in front of her for a session that went for about two hours."
She called his SERT colleagues and told them what was happening.
"They all went into overdrive. They provided so much love and support to me. It was unbelievable."
Sen Sgt Monaei said each day his colleagues would pick him up from his home and take him to an intensive intervention program.
"SERT watch each other's back on the job. And they did that for me with my emotional state," he said.
He said an old police culture of masking emotions rather than talking them through played a part in the breakdown of his mental health. He said he believed men in particular are bad at expressing their feelings. But he said that culture is changing.
"When I think about the stresses of life and the stresses of work, for me, all I need to do is take that rear view mirror approach. I'm in my vehicle and I am driving away from the deepest darkest period of my life and all I need to do is look in that rear view mirror to see how far I've come," Sen Sgt Monaei said.
"If it means that sharing my story even once can help one person, that's my paying it forward. That's my win, that's a massive win."
Dr John Rolfe, who was also a SERT officer and is now a director with Queensland Fire and Emergency Services, will also share his battle with depression at today's forum.
"My best mate was a motorbike cop. I loved him to bits. He came off his bike and he hit a guard rail," he said.
Dr Rolfe said he had no idea he was responding to a fatal crash - or that it was his best friend - when the call first came over the radio.
He said attending that crash was a "series of deep shocks" - from seeing him dead to visiting him in the morgue.
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"I've seen a lot of trauma ... but it was like being hit by a sledge hammer," Dr Rolfe said.
"When it's someone who you deeply care for, it's a different ballgame.
"I didn't sleep that night, of course.
"But the next morning the pager goes off and we're doing an emergency action on an armed robber.
"It was just get up, go, keep going, keep going.
"And I wasn't actually addressing the traumatic event that I'd gone through."
He said it was several years later that he collapsed, that he found himself unable to function outside of work.
"I was, over time, getting more socially withdrawn. More angry.
"All these classic signs that we know about now. And I eventually fell over to the point where I couldn't function outside of work.
"I became dysfunctional off the job and I couldn't go back to work for a period. I couldn't tell anyone, or I didn't think I could. And so I suffered in silence and then desperately sought help to get me at least back functioning."
Dr Rolfe said it was a police psychologist he reached out to who got him back to work -
but it wasn't until years later, while studying psychology himself, that he got to the "root cause" of his mental health breakdown.
"I was eating away at myself, I was deeply critical of myself for not being able to save my best mate," he said.
Dr Rolfe said he will use today's forum to remind his emergency services workers to lean on their colleagues.
"The positive for me is about the asking. The support is there. The mateship. And mindfulness. Seek out activities with movement and breathing and focus," he said.
The MenTALL forum is being held today at The Gabba.
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