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Two brave men share about their experiences with suicide including surviving an attempt

suicide prevention day

Personal stories: Carlo Martelli (left) and Allan Sparkes.

IN Queensland 650 lives are lost to suicide annually. 

These statistics reinforce the importance, now more than ever, to connect with, communicate to and care about the people around us. 

Since 2003, World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10 has aimed to create a positive ripple effect, by reaching out to and help as many people as possible – in the community, in the workplace and at home.

Here are two stories of personal experience with suicide:

Carlo Martelli

Brisbane businessman Carlo Martelli firmly believes his younger sister’s death was a compulsive act and could have been prevented.

“I read some of her diaries and journals and she didn’t want to die, but the pain was so overwhelming for her,” he said.

His sister, Sophia, 33, had sought help in January 2013 at Chermside’s Prince Charles Hospital for suicidal thoughts and a prescription drug addiction.

She was released after a half-hour medical assessment.

“She was in real crisis. We knew it. But the doctors apparently knew better,” Mr Martelli said. 

Within weeks Mr Martelli was on a family holiday in Noosa when he received a phone call that Sophia had taken her own life. 

He had to break the news to his mum and dad.

“There is still a sense of disbelief now. She was terribly loved, and is terribly missed,” he said.

“She was a good, honest, caring, loving, sentimental, gentle soul who just didn’t have the coping mechanisms.”

Mr Martelli admits he didn’t appreciate his sister’s fragile state, or know how to help.

“She had attempted (suicide) several times before but I thought it was attention seeking,” he said.

“All the wrong things I said. But who am I to know? I just didn’t know.

“I never understood it. I never had any of those issues or feelings. To me everything is black and white, always has been, and that’s how I treated her. 

“I gave her a lot of tough love. I said look at the TV. Look at the people starving. And that’s probably the worst thing I could do. I didn’t listen to her. I didn’t give her options. I really judged her.

“I tell this story so people won’t judge. Keep an open mind and an open heart.”

Mr Martelli said it was crucial to look for the signs of emotional change – sadness, depression and talk about life as meaningless.

But his key message was to stay connected with the person, and to keep trying to find ways of treatment.

“I wish I had been closer to just ring her up. She didn’t feel comfortable to ring me up because she knew what she would get. She would get the older brother talk,” he said.

“You don’t get a second chance. I’d like to give Sophia a hug and say, ‘Look, I’m sorry’ – spend some time with her. 

“But you don’t get that opportunity when they are gone.”

Allan Sparkes 

Allan Sparkes is a man of courage – twice awarded for extraordinary acts of bravery.

But Mr Sparkes has also trodden the precarious road back from attempted suicide.

“People can recover. It was 20 years ago that I tried to take my own life,” Mr Sparkes, a frontline officer for two decades in the New South Wales police force, said. 

He witnessed many horrific events, which led to a breakdown.

He was involved in the horrific aftermath of the Hilton Bombing, arrested some of Australia’s most notorious criminals and faced the tragedy of murdered colleagues. 

Mr Sparkes and his colleagues saved the life of a young child who had been swept 600m down a flooded stormwater pipe.

His bravery in the rescue earned him Australia’s highest bravery decoration, the Cross of Valour, awarded for “acts of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme peril”.

However, despite his brave public face, Mr Sparkes was suffering inside.

“Back then the stigma of mental illness was so strong that if you disclosed you were struggling your career was over,” he said.

“People get to a stage in their lives where they believe there is absolutely no hope for their future and they are completely worthless.

“They have lost hope that things can every get better.

“I suffered agonising physical pain, that was just unbearable and intolerable. To escape the pain my death was a much better option, for me.”

Mr Sparkes now knows the pain he was suffering was the result of post  traumatic stress disorder and chronic depression. 

On the night he attempted suicide, it was the swift action of a workmate that saved him.

“My mate Burgo didn’t know what was wrong with me. But he cared for me,” Mr Sparkes said.

“He took me to hospital. My wife was also a cop. That night they sat down and talked to me about what was going on.

“And I opened up to them about the horrible things I was experiencing.

“That was the start of my recovery.”

Mr Sparkes’ journey back from debilitating mental illness tested his resolve for more than a decade. 

With the unwavering support of his wife, he faced his demons and rebuilt his mind, body and soul. 

“It took me a long time to get back, but I have completely recovered from my mental illnesses, I have completely recovered from suicidal thoughts,” he said.

Life and career took a sea change, literally.

In 2009, Mr Sparkes, his wife and two young children set sail from England to Australia on a yacht. 

Even though his wife and children had no blue-water sailing experience, they sailed 16,000 nautical miles (30,000km), crossing the Atlantic Ocean, through the Panama Canal and across the Pacific Ocean.

In 2014, Mr Sparkes risked his life again, jumping onto train tracks at Sydney’s Redfern station to save a man who’d tumbled into the path of a train, resulting in news headlines such as “Is this Australia’s greatest hero?”.

He was awarded the Commendation for Brave Conduct, Australia’s fourth-highest bravery decoration.

Today he is a Beyond Blue Ambassador, a Soldier On Ambassador and an Australia Day Ambassador. 

He travels the country as a volunteer, publicly sharing his experiences.

“I live an exceptional life. I am very proud of what I do in the field of suicide prevention. But I see a cultural change that we have to harness and keep pushing – that we have to care more about each other,” he said.

By Mark Bowling

Catholic Church Insurance

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