Former detective strips back the stigma

I saw so many good police succumbing to PTSD and committing suicide, that I just felt that maybe I could make a difference. - Belinda Neil

AT one point former homicide detective and police negotiator Belinda Neil told her husband: "I see dead people".

Such was the severity of her mental illness which caused her to retire from a high flying career in the New South Wales police force nine years ago. 

Ms Neil was in Bendigo on Friday morning to launch her new book, Under Seige, a personal and detailed account of her experiences on the front line of life-and-death situations and homicide investigations.

Speaking to guests at the Shamrock Hotel, Ms Neil said her problems came to a head one morning when she couldn't get out of bed because she was shaking. 

By that stage, she was showing all the signs of advanced post traumatic stress disorder.

She was forgetting to eat and care for her personal hygiene, was detached from her family, her marriage had broken down and intrusive thoughts about her children being stabbed and murdered in their beds would not leave her alone.

She was thinking seriously about ending her life. 

Ms Neil had to leave the career she had passionately built to spend years concentrating on recovery. 

In the introduction of her book, she sums up the reality of her illness: "I was a police negotiator, trained to counter-terrorist-level negotiation, and an Inspector of police, and I could not even consider volunteering to work at my children's school canteen."

Her motivation for writing the book - an experience that was difficult because she had to relive horrific events in detail - was to raise awareness about post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

"I wrote the book because I didn't see that the police were doing enough (to address PTSD)," she said. 

"I saw so many good police succumbing to PTSD and committing suicide, that I just felt that maybe I could make a difference.

"I'm not sure of anyone who has died from a back injury but I know of a lot of police who have died from PTSD, because of the associated ailments of depression, they've committed suicide."

She said there was a stigma that "if you put your hand up saying you're affected, then you're weak". 

"That needs to change," she said.

"Physical injuries are very accepted. Mental injuries, psychological injuries are not as accepted. If we walked around with bandages wrapped around our head, wouldn't people with PTSD or depression or anxiety get more sympathy?" 

Ms Neil said her book was not just for PTSD sufferers but was also for families, friends, workmates and supervisors to learn how to support those facing the illness.

"It's not just for the police, it's for firies, ambos, paramedics and war vets," she said.

"I'm very into early intervention. If you see someone showing some signs, talk to them early. If someone's showing poor work performance, drinking more alcohol, or is irritable at work or they're becoming very socially withdrawn, let's have a look at what they're doing at work."

After intensive therapy, medication and mental exercises, Ms Neil said she was not cured but that PTSD no longer controlled her. 

"I spent a number of sessions with my psychiatrist asking, 'how long will it take to recover?'. In the end he got very frustrated and said, 'how long is a piece of string?'. I don't ask him anymore. So I just accept it."

Strath Village newsagency organised the Bendigo book launch and is now selling Under Seige.

Newsagency owner Kylie Kay said $5 of every book sold would go to the Blue Ribbon Foundation. 

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop