At his darkest time, Allan Sparkes could easily have died. A police officer, who had brought off an extraordinary rescue of a child trapped underground in a stormwater drain, Sparkes was a hero in the eyes of the world. In his own mind he floundered in the event’s aftermath, with severe depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and potent ideas of suicide.
By seeking formal help, and with the support of his family, Sparkes pulled back from the brink. Now he wants to use his personal story of recovery to inspire hope in others, and to persuade governments and the mental health sector to work more proactively to help people in acute distress.
“People are trying to stay alive behind some very dark doors. To open those doors takes a lot of guts,” Sparkes says. “I can offer people hope. I’m an example of someone who went through all that, and got better.”
As a Deputy Commissioner, Sparkes wants to emphasise the role of the community-managed sector in providing psychosocial supports to people in crisis, along with mental health promotion, and prevention of mental illness. By moving the point of intervention forward to avert crises, there would be enormous “collateral benefits”, Sparkes says, not only in minimising the impact on the individual but on their families. He is also interested in the impact of lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and sleep on mental health.
Allan is the only Australian to be awarded Australia’s highest civil award, the Cross of Valour and a subsequent Australian Bravery Decoration, the Commendation for Brave Conduct. He is also one of only 10 Australians to be presented the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal along with other significant awards for bravery, valour and service, making him one of Australia’s most decorated citizens. He is an ambassador for beyondblue, Australia Day, Soldier On and Kookaburra Kids. He is also a member of the NSW Police Mental Health Intervention Training team and the Commission’s Suicide Prevention Advisory Group.
Mr Sparke's appointment as Deputy Commissioner is from December 2016 until November 2018.
Highlights for 2016-17:
"This is the first year I have had the honour of carrying the title of Deputy Commissioner, Mental Health Commission of NSW. When I was a client of the NSW public mental health system, this would have been unthinkable.
I have been able to work hand in hand with our Police Force, Paramedics and Fire and Rescue, to see how trauma-related mental illnesses are now being regarded as injuries that can be treated, managed and overcome. To speak to officers who have recovered and are returning to full operational duties is an extraordinary experience. And now to see programs that educate and empower people about the physiological risks they face carrying out their roles in our society is something I have waited years to witness. We have come a long way and I am confident the gains we have made in adopting a proactive approach to mental wellness will continue to be enhanced."