Policeman Mark Thomas related his experiences as a “first responder” at overdoses, suicides, motor car accidents and violent events, and how badly he was affected psychologically by a suicide by hanging in 2003. He failed to recognise and heed the subsequent warning signs, and nearly a decade later, the situation came to a head and he was hospitalised. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety. Whilst in hospital, Mark felt intensely alone.
Mark’s resultant psychological damage was significant. He felt a catastrophic loss of self and his feeling of loneliness soared. During the gradual recovery from his acute phase, Mark spent much time thinking about his stay in the hospital and the impact that debilitating sense of loneliness had on his wellbeing.
Mark set himself the goal of creating a PTSD support group that would show to others in the same situation that they are not alone.  From the small beginnings of a Facebook group with 30 members, Code 9 has now expanded to a membership of over 2,700 emergency response personnel, including police, fire, ambulance and dispatchers within the group.
 
With the amazing help of some highly dedicated people to administer Code 9, it has transitioned from a small single group of people meeting in Melbourne at Anzac House, to multiple groups in regional and rural Victoria that meets in numerous locations, supporting hundreds of emergency services members.
 
Code 9 provides a place of support for those members who live with PTSD, depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions that result from their service to the community.  Mark noted that the suicide rate in Victoria amongst emergency services personnel is up to 20 times greater than that of the general community.
 
After meeting Jimmy, a trained Assistance Dog, he started a charity to raise money to train more of these: they take 18 months and cost $3,500 to train, but they perform marvellously. 
 
Photos show CFA first responders, and Mark Thomas with chairman Charlotte England and Geoff Wright.
And of course, an Assistance Dog with friends.