Features April 17, 2019

‘Graduation Day’ puts the spotlight on police mental health issues

‘Graduation Day’ puts the spotlight on police mental health issues
Image: John Schumann. (Supplied)

Mark Carroll APM, president of the Police Federation of Australia (PFA) has been a bluey long enough to know first hand the trauma that police officers experience while trying to keep the rest of the community safe.

A worrying report from Beyondblue showed that suicidal thoughts among cops are twice as common than in the general population, and police and other emergency services workers are three times more likely to have some sort of suicide plan.

Being an avid rock music fan, Carroll recalled how Redgum’s chart-topping ‘I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)’ had made all the difference in bringing post-traumatic disorder back in the national conversation, leading to academic and governmental research, conferences and parliamentary inquiries.

Obviously, the police campaign to highlight awareness of in their ranks needed a song like ‘I Was Only 19’.

Carroll was lucky: he was a student of John Schumann’s when the latter was a teacher in Adelaide before forming the band, and could easily reach out to him.

In the wake of ‘19’, Schumann had become a much-in-demand speaker and strategic communication consultant for the army and the mining sector on trauma.

“What we needed was a song that would stop people in their tracks,” Schumann says about this walk in the deep blue.

“One thing I learned from ‘19’ was that Australians don’t like being preached at or getting a power point presentation.

“We just want to know about the characters and we’ll figure it out from there.”

As he did with ‘19’, Schumann earnestly dug into the characters.

He travelled around the country speaking to police officers with psychological injuries and heard their stories.

“They’d been shot in the face,” he recounts. “It’s not like a cop show on TV, it’s a really serious injury.

“They had to pull mangled people out of cars, or have to knock on the door to tell people that their loved ones weren’t coming home.

“We have to understand that to get a psychological injury you can have minor episode day after day after day like waves at the bottom of a cliff.

“The things we ask cops to do on our behalf, I’m not sure I’m strong enough to do.”

About five to seven characters exist in the song ‘Graduation Day’, which he cut with his band The Vagabond Crew.

“It’s the detail in the song which gives it its validation,” he says.

“I’ve always tried to write songs that make a difference – and I’m hoping this song makes a difference.”

Sales of ‘Graduation Day’ go towards supporting police officers (serving and retired) and their families who are in need.

It’s also on iTunes and ‘Graduation Day’ will be added to the digital version of Schumann’s recent album, Ghost And Memories.

Carroll reveals: “I have yet to meet a police officer who hasn’t been stopped in his or her tracks while listening to this song.

“Police all around Australia now have their own song.

“It will remind them that they’re 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’.”

It was also important for Schumann that the track includes a female to further drive home the song’s message.

He asked Adelaide singer-songwriter Tasha Coates of The Audreys, whom he had earlier asked to join him when he went to Afghanistan to entertain troops.

Coates also lent her name to the campaign and appears in the music video.

Schumann is also involved in a documentary about police mental health issues called

“The filmmakers are sensational, their attention to detail is fantastic.

“The lead actor is a trained and experienced actor but also a serving policeman.”

Aside from touring with Vagabond Crew,, Schumann also tours with Shane Howard, going down a storm singing each others’ songs.

Both their recent solo works display sharp songwriting skills.

“We’re two Catholic boys from the ‘50s and ‘60s so we have a lot of attitudes in common,” Schumann chuckles.

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