Step back and unlock tips to better mental health

Tamra CarrGeraldton Guardian
Shimona Dann and Peter Griffiths-Sebastian. The pair have been dating for two years.
Camera IconShimona Dann and Peter Griffiths-Sebastian. The pair have been dating for two years. Credit: Tamra Carr, The Geraldton Guardian

Rangeway resident Peter Griffiths-Sebastian was once a prison statistic.

One night in 2015, he woke up in a cell at Hakea Prison heavily drunk with no recollection of where he was or why he was there.

A prison guard told him he was incarcerated and had just committed a serious crime.

Later that year, Mr Griffiths-Sebastian was convicted for the armed robbery of a bottle shop.

The 27-year-old used to be a youth worker and deputy director of NAIDOC celebration activities.

Looking back, he can pinpoint the exact moment it all went wrong.

“I lost my dad in 2015,” Mr Griffiths-Sebastian said.

“Cancer got the best of him and it broke me in half. I lost the plot, thought about killing myself, I got a bit too drunk and I did something stupid.

“About half an hour later I was picked up and chucked in the paddy wagon. One year jail, one year parole.”

While incarcerated, Mr Griffiths-Sebastian missed the birth of his son and four family members took their own lives, each leaving behind a young family.

He spiralled further into depression, until one day he noticed a pattern of behaviour among his fellow inmates.

“I’d watch people snap, lose the plot and get chucked to the ground by prison officers, watch them get hurt because of their own doing,” he said.

“I started reading books, about half a dozen, on controlling anger.

“I used to have a really short fuse but it’s hard to get me angry now.

“I just thought to myself ‘I need to snap out of this, my dad wouldn’t like this, he would have given me a good ear-bashing and a slap across the head’.”

After a stint in self-help, Mr Griffiths-Sebastian entered a prison peer mentoring program and started supporting new and young offenders, particularly those who wished to die.

He was paroled on good behaviour after serving a year in jail and became officially free from the system in 2017.

Now, Mr Griffiths-Sebastian lives in Rangeway with his partner Shimona Dann.

He is a traffic controller for Catwest Road Services and he plays for Chapman Valley Football Club.

He said he owed his improved mental health to his partner, his team and his work.

Though Mr Griffiths-Sebastian is unsure why so many indigenous Australians walk the path to suicide, he thinks he knows how to block the road.

“Just step back and think — think about how you felt when a family member died and think about how you’re putting people in the same situation you were just in,” he implored.

“I think people see shame in going for help, but just let the networks help you.

“Play some footy, keep busy with work, and don’t let things sink or bring you down.”

Mr Griffiths-Sebastian is an advocate for the employment of more Aboriginal people in mental health care.

Lifeline has reported the suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is more than double the national rate.

A Productivity Commission report released last year stated the indigenous imprisonment rate is 12 times greater than the non-indigenous rate.

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