The mental health of professionals dealing with horrific crimes was the subject of a remarkable VU Law Week event.
Sisters in Crime Australia and the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre co-hosted the sold-out event at Victoria University on Friday 18 May.
Extraordinary women share their experiences
A panel of guest speakers shared insights from their careers doing extraordinary things to keep society safe. They were:
- award-winning forensic-science writer Liz Porter, who led the discussion
- former forensic scientist Maggie Baron
- retired emergency physician Venita Munir
- former Victoria Police detective Narelle Fraser.
Each speaker revealed how their experiences with some of the most haunting crime scenes in Australia had impacted their mental health and caused them to change careers. They also highlighted the need to treat mental health just like any other health issue.
Burden of trauma carried too long
Narelle Fraser, who has become a prominent public speaker, told the audience that her biggest challenge was accepting she had post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.
She kept telling herself: “I’m Narelle Fraser, I can’t have PTSD”.
All three women stepped aside from high-pressure roles, and all three agreed that they took longer than necessary to step aside because they “didn’t want to let the team down”.
Maggie Baron, who now uses crime writing to channel the negative memories formed during her time in forensic science, said “it took a long time from deciding to go to actually going”. None of the women wanted to burden their colleagues with extra work.
Humour helps to deal with pain
When asked how humour had helped them in their careers, Narelle recounted a story of transporting a Shetland pony in the back of a police car. She added that sometimes the scenes were so sad the only way to deal with them was to have a laugh.
“It doesn’t matter where you are, you see so much trauma and sadness ... We’re meeting people on the worst day of their lives. And it’s difficult to manage that,” Narelle said.
Presented by Victoria Law Foundation, Law Week is an annual festival of events that makes learning about the law easy. Sisters in Crime Australia has been bringing people with a passion for women’s crime writing together since 1991.