Former policeman speaks out about suicide

DETAILS: Bendigo Suicide Prevention & Awareness Walk - 11am Sunday

GREG Penno knows all too well the devastating impact suicide can have on emergency personnel.

The Bendigo resident served with Victoria Police for about 23 years and ended his career because of ill health.

Mr Penno says witnessing the heartache associated with suicide played a part in his decision to call it quits.

"You see a lot of deaths and illness and injury that you carry with you over time," he said.

"Probably for me there are three experiences that I know I'll carry to my grave.

"One relates to a young fella who committed suicide in the cells when I was on duty, on my shift.

"He was checked regularly through the night but when we went out to get him in the morning ... it was just horrendous because you know what affect it has.

"You know the families are going to feel it, his friends are going to feel it.

"And you know they're going to hate you because he died in your custody."

Mr Penno broke down while sharing his story with the Bendigo Advertiser this week.

But, when asked if he wanted to end the interview, he was determined to push on because he knows the importance of talking about things rather than bottling them up.

"If you don't talk about these things it just doesn't help either," he said.

"After that I had a male cousin who was gay at a time when being a gay man in society wasn't accepted.

"He grew up in a fairly devout Catholic family and he committed suicide on my shift out in Eaglehawk.

"The boys put him in the mortuary and I had to go and do the ID and go and tell his mum and dad."

Mr Penno said it was not something he'd expected to do during his shift when he'd left for work that day, highlight policing is about so much more than law enforcement and catching the bad guys.

"There was probably a third occasion that stands out that was really tragic," he said.

"This happened in Inglewood back in the '80s when I was relieving the sergeant up there.

"It was a really bad night in that we did a fatal in the afternoon where a young guy had hit a powerpole on a motorbike.

"We processed all of that and got most of the brief done and then about 11.30pm we thought we'd go out and have a look around the town.

"We were confronted by a large group of kids running down the main street screaming.

"There were probably 15 to 20 kids aged from 10 through to about 16 or so.

"There had been a shooting."

Mr Penno said police had driven to a house on the outskirts of town.

"It was really tragic from a number of points because there were no adults in supervision, there was an 18 gallon keg of beer under a tree and all these kids in this backyard having a party," he said.

"An older boy had had an ongoing bullying episode with a younger lad and they'd both been at the party and there had been some sort of an incident ... it was really tragic."

Mr Penno said every time he hears about a suicide the memories come flooding back.

"I'm in tears sitting here," he said.

"It's with you all the time.

"It just doesn't leave you."

Mr Penno is encouraging people to take part in the Bendigo Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk this Sunday.

Lifeline, Bendigo Community Health and the StandBy response service Bendigo will have volunteers available to talk with people attending the walk if needed.

The annual Bendigo Suicide Prevention and Awareness Walk will leave Bendigo's Dai Gum San precinct at 11am.

Activities for the event will start at 9.30am with an official ceremony and free sausage sizzle after the walk.

"Suicide is just so bad," Mr Penno said.

"It's worse than any number of fatalities that we have a year in the country.

"It's probably worse than anyone that dies from cancer and that's a scourge on us as well.

"It just goes as a silent killer." 

If you or someone you know needs help phone Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or visit beyondblue at www.beyondblue.org.au 

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