Nicole Graham was a cop who worked on child abuse and sexual assault cases. She was also the first female police officer in the small country town she was living in on the NSW-Victoria border.
Before this, she considered herself someone who could handle life’s ups and downs like a “normal” person.
“They were very much a part my growing up, but I handled them and was still a very well balanced and positive person with a strong resilience,” she explained to The Huffington Post Australia.
But something triggered in Graham later in life as she took on work, childcare and the devastating realities police work forced her to see.
“I loved my first six years in the police force, nothing unsettled me and I was always walking around with a smile on my face. It was where I thrived, she said.
“[Then] I started to feel the toll of the job and lack of support from some of the hierarchy.
“I felt very isolated, coupled with attending numerous traumatic events and mismanagement, going to work became horrible. The lack of support at work and nature of the job started to have a very negative effect on me.”
Anxiety and depression are indiscriminate illnesses that will affect more than three million Aussies all together.
According to BeyondBlue depression in the workplace costs Australia $730 million a year, and more than one quarter of Australian workers experience stress or anxiety as a result of their working arrangements.
“Stressful work situations, particularly on-going stressful work situations, are risk factors for developing a mental health condition, such as depression,” Nick Arvaniti, Head of Workplace Research and Resources at BeyondBlue, told HuffPost Australia.
“Many of the symptoms associated with having a mental health condition – disturbed sleep, feeling overwhelmed, lacking confidence, negative thinking patterns, poor concentration – if not managed well, will affect a person’s ability to fulfil the requirements of the job as well as their ability to manage situations outside the workplace.”
Graham describes that time in her life as moments filled with exhaustion, sickness and constant crying.
“One minute I would be scared and shaky crossing the road, yet I would always be working by myself attending the most serious of jobs with no fear or regard to my own personal safety. I was becoming erratic.”
Graham faced years of shame, of hiding her depression and her need for medication. Her marriage broke down and she faced open-heart surgery.
That tough exterior of Graham’s led her to hide her pain for too long, culminating in an attempt on her own life.
Arvaniti said seeking support early is vital when coping with depression and ongoing stress at work.
“Early help-seeking is likely to lead to a quicker recovery and delayed help seeking can lead to a longer recovery time,” he said.
Graham did eventually get that help. She began exercising. She saw psychologists and psychiatrists.
“I slowly got myself on track, it was a rollercoaster ride with many slumps.
“I met a new man and became more and more positive. I still had my ups and downs but they weren’t as erratic and now I had someone to support me and give me hope. He was positive and non-judgmental. He was my lifesaver.”
Graham now speaks for BeyondBlue in an attempt to help reduce the stigma of depression and anxiety and to help others deal with their pain sooner than she did.
“Stress is common in daily life. Exposure to prolonged stress can start to affect your mental and physical health. Stress in our lives isn’t going to stop, so we need to find ways to manage it.”
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.
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