In 2021, 3,144 Australians died by suicide, about 12 in every 100,000 people. Suicide is almost always a result of mental ill health which comes in a number of forms. One of those is bipolar.
Craig Hamilton is one of the last people you would expect to suffer mental ill health. ‘Hammo’, as he is affectionately known, was an underground coal miner at Lake Macquarie before he jumped on the radio to talk about cricket and found he was a natural.
That’s where a career in radio began for Hammo who was sitting at Broadmeadow train station on the eve of the Sydney Olympics when he had a psychotic episode. He was handcuffed and taken by police to a locked ward in a Newcastle hospital.
That’s where Craig was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“Bipolar manifests with huge mood swings – big highs but also crippling depressions which can make you feel suicidal, and I was. I was thinking ‘I’ve got a great life, I don’t have any problems and yet I feel like this’.
“Mental health and mental ill health can touch anyone at any time.
“You could be sitting next to the most productive, nicest, friendliest, most capable, outgoing person and you wouldn’t think there’s a problem, but maybe there is.”
23 years later, Craig is using his experience to try and stop the number of people who feel like suicide is their only way out.
Craig is proof that it’s not.
Craig’s mission to break the stigma around mental health started in 2004 when he published his book ‘Broken Open’ about his episode in 2000.
Since then, he continued to work for the ABC in Newcastle until earlier this year, travels across the country doing speaking tours and now he’s made a documentary he hopes will help break mental ill health wide open.
Craig teamed up with Jye Currie, a Newcastle filmmaker who owns ‘Green Frog Productions’ to turn the book he wrote into a documentary.
“I heard Craig’s story some time ago and I read his book and noticed he had been travelling around Australia talking about suicide prevention and mental health and one of the comments he made was that not many people were talking about it.
“I looked into my own industry and noticed there were no suicide prevention films and I thought, we need this. No one had touched the subject and I wasn’t sure why, so I thought what a great opportunity.”
Jye and his film crew followed Craig around earlier this year capturing some of his speaking tour in NSW and in far north Queensland. While they were on the road, they interviewed a number of well-known Australians including Dolphins NRL coach Wayne Bennett, boxer Tim Tszyu and journalist Jessica Rowe.
“We also talked to four families who have been touched by suicide. They’ve had family members take their lives and they tell very personal stories,” said Craig.
“Because it’s the ripple effect. One person takes their life and it goes through the whole community, particularly when it happens in a small town.
“The impact is massive and it can’t be understated.
“I want as many eyeballs on this documentary as possible. It’s important that people who don’t have mental health issues, who don’t have family members or friends who have taken their lives to actually have an insight into this issue.”
Jye said that was one of the most difficult parts of making the documentary – hearing everyone’s deeply personal experiences with suicide.
“A lot of people were coming up to Craig and sharing their personal stories and we interviewed families that had lost loved ones to suicide, so we had to make sure we were working closely with the crew and make them feel safe.
“It’s not every day you’re going to rock up to work and hear these personal stories and see people break down crying when they share these stories.
“We made sure everyone felt good and kept morale high. Everyone knew it was a really powerful project going in,” Jye said.
Now the film is finished and the premiere was in Newcastle on September 20. There was nothing but praise after the screening with resounding applause for Craig, Jye and the documentary team. The film was raw, very real and addressed suicide without shying away from it in any way.
There were a few tears in the audience, but the message from the film, while on a very serious subject, was positive and hopeful that change can be made.
Now, Craig and Jye are taking the documentary on a screening tour around the country, before it’s released officially in 2024 with the money raised on the tour going to Lifeline.
The Promise will make stops in Sydney, Shellharbour, Coffs Harbour, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Mackay and Cairns.
|Find out more at: https://craig-hamilton.com/ If you need someone to talk to call Lifeline on 13 11 14|