Singer-songwriter John Schumann, credited with changing the way Australia thinks about our Vietnam veterans with his song I was only 19, has penned a new song to support a mental health campaign for the nation’s police.
The song, Graduation Day, talks about the realities of life on the thin blue line from a police perspective and why officers continue to expose themselves to trauma or danger, often with disastrous impacts on themselves and their loved ones.
The song is part of a comprehensive mental health program being developed and rolled out by the Police Federation of Australia with the assistance of the Federal Government.
Schumann says Graduation Day took him almost a year to write, digesting police experiences first hand to produce a credible piece of work that would tell their story.
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“I had to get inside a cop’s head, walk around in a cop’s shoes – and look out and see the world through a cop’s eyes,” Schumann said. “The song owes everything to all the police officers around Australia who trusted me with their stories.”
They were tough to hear but gave him a real insight into what police contended with.
“What it means to go to work every day to keep the community safe – and then come home with a head full of barbed wire without knowing how to talk about it or what to do about it,” he said.
“I firmly believe that if you want to change the way people think and behave, tell them a story. That’s what I did, quite by chance in fact, with I Was Only 19. We are Australians – we respond best to stories. Don’t lecture us, don’t subject us to death by PowerPoint, don’t write a report – tell us a story and we’ll get it.”
Recorded with Schumann’s long-time band, the Vagabond Crew, and featuring guest vocalist Taasha Coates from The Audreys, proceeds from Graduation Day are being directed to the National Police Foundation to assist police officers and their families who are in need.
PFA President Mark Carroll said police all around Australia now had their own song and it would remind them that they were not alone.
“And it will give the broader Australian community an empathetic insight into the lives of the men and women who hold the ‘thin blue line’,” he said. “I have yet to meet a police officer who hasn’t been stopped in his or her tracks while listening to this song.”
Mr Carroll said the job of keeping the community safe can carry significant psychological costs for the people involved – and their families, including mental ill-health, psychological injuries and, in the worst cases, suicide.
He referred to the recent Beyond Blue study of first-responders, which showed that suicidal thoughts among police officers are twice as common than in the general population. Police and other
emergency services workers are three times more likely to have some sort of suicide plan.
The new mental health plan includes a suite of cop-specific materials – handbooks, workplace posters and a compelling and powerful tele-movie called Dark Blue, the likes of which has not been produced in Australia.
“The scourge of mental ill-health and psychological injuries, which destroy lives, families and careers, cannot go unaddressed. But before this scourge can be addressed, it has to be understood – and herein lies the power of Graduation Day – and Dark Blue,” Mr Carroll said.
Mr Carroll said the PFA acknowledges that police departments around Australia were also taking up the mental health challenge, albeit in a different form.
“Without wishing to diminish these important efforts, the PFA is able to tell it like it really is – unrestrained by bureaucratic niceties and department-speak,” he said.
“Now is not the time to hold back. We all need to understand what’s going on, especially police families who can suffer very much too.”
Graduation Day is out today and sales of the single via https://www.fineprint.net.au/graduation-day will go towards supporting police officers (serving and retired) and their families who are in need.