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Struggling ex-cops given a lifeline in NSW

AAP logoAAP 3/08/2016 By Frances Mao

Detective Senior Constable Allan Sparkes was a celebrated rescue hero and recipient of the highest honour for civilian bravery when he decided to end his life.

"It was October 4, 1998. I kissed my wife and goodbye and went to work with my revolver. I pulled one of the bullets out and had a look at it for a few seconds, before putting it back in," he told a roomful of the state's top brass at the launch of a support program on Wednesday.

"Then I walked off to the bathroom to shoot myself."

A colleague walked in just in time, taking the gun out of his hands and helping him home.

Only a few months earlier, Mr Sparkes became one of only six Australians to win the Cross of Valour after risking his life to rescue an 11-year-old boy washed down a drainpipe during flash flooding.

He almost drowned in that rescue, and the trauma from that added to a lifetime of exposure to brutal crimes and accident scenes, pushing the "strong, tough" policeman to the brink.

However, the moment that hit him the hardest was when he was discharged from the police force against his own will.

"To receive a phone call saying you're out, that was probably one of the most damaging experiences I've ever endured," he said.

"I had to find my worth again, to prove to myself that I was still a man, a husband, a father capable of protecting and looking after my loved ones."

Now a motivational speaker and Black Dog ambassador, Mr Sparkes says a program such as Backup for Life, launched by the NSW Police Force on Wednesday, would have helped struggling policemen like him recover from trauma suffered in the line of duty.

The program aims to support retired cops who struggle with isolation and a lack of purpose, as well as their psychological and physical scars.

The launch comes days after revelations that a culture of shame and silence towards mental health and PTSD issues still abounds in the NSW Police.

Police Minister Troy Grant acknowledged the cultural issues but said the force was still evolving in its processes for dealing with trauma.

He drew upon his own experiences "dancing with shadows" during his 22-year policing, saying if he hadn't received professional help he wouldn't have made it through.

The NSW government has contributed $2 million to the program.

* Former NSW police officers seeking support can contact 1800 4 BACKUP

* Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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