‘Risky business’ at HMAS Albatross

Published on CMDR Fenn Kemp (author), Unknown (photographer)

Location(s): HMAS Albatross, NSW

Topic(s): HMAS Albatross, Health, Fitness and Wellbeing

CO HMAS Albatross, CAPT Fiona Sneath with Mr Allan Sparkes CV, OAM, VA, and Deputy Commander Fleet Air Arm, CAPT Peter Ashworth. (photo: Unknown)
CO HMAS Albatross, CAPT Fiona Sneath with Mr Allan Sparkes CV, OAM, VA, and Deputy Commander Fleet Air Arm, CAPT Peter Ashworth.

HMAS Albatross was honoured to be able to hear from Mr Allan Sparkes CV, OAM, VA on Friday 28 July. Allan served as a NSW Police officer for 20 years. He was awarded Australia’s highest civilian bravery award, the Cross of Valour (CV) for his rescue of an 11 year old boy from a stormwater drain in Coffs Harbour. But during his police career he saw things and experienced workplace stress, the build up of which so significantly affected his mental health that he sought to take his own life. As a result, Allan was medically retired from the job that he loved.

Allan is now a Deputy Commissioner of the NSW Mental Health Commission, Patron of the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation and 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 Mental Health Commission’s Suicide Prevention Advisory Group. He has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for service to mental health organisations and the community.

In his presentation entitled ‘Risky Business’, Allan shared his compelling, personal and at times confronting story of his spiral into, and recovery from, mental ill health. In doing so he communicated life saving information with a level of credibility, care and compassion that made the importance of the information so relevant and entirely relatable to the military service audience.

Allan gave inspiration, hope and practical strategies that individuals can use to address their own mental health issues, even before seeking professional intervention, and demonstrated that recovery can be achieved with personal effort and commitment (and in his case, exceptional support from his wife too).

Allan said it was a “Great honour to speak to the crew and staff from HMAS Albatross this morning. Especially to be able to share some stories about sailing across the oceans. But the most important and rewarding aspect was the desire from the audience to learn more about proactive approaches people can adopt for good mental health, minimising the risk of PTSD and suicide prevention.”

Captain Fiona Sneath, Commanding Officer HMAS Albatross said, “The presentation was a powerful experience, and the reception of the information was enhanced so much by the candour and credibility that Allan’s personal approach provided. If you get the chance to hear Allan speak, don’t miss the opportunity.”