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.