Book review: Life Sentence by Simon Gillard

This story documents a moving and life changing journey for former police detective Simon Gillard, who was diagnosed with PTSD at the height of his career. Gillard, with the help of Libby Harkness, re-lives his harrowing battle with post-traumatic stress syndrome in the hope that increasing awareness of this insidious mental illness will help save lives.

When two police officers visited Simon’s primary school class, he knew instantly what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. As soon as he finished high school, Simon applied for training and was accepted by the Goulburn Police Academy. He graduated as a Probationary Constable six months later and began serving on the force in the Northern Beaches area where he’d grown up.

Simon steadily worked his way up through the ranks, transferring to other stations in the process, until he became a detective and achieved his childhood dreams. However, there was a price to pay. He became increasingly disturbed by nightmares and was haunted by the terrible crimes he was witnessing daily during his work. He began drinking heavily and family life began to suffer as a result.

Eventually his marriage broke up, compounding the situation. Although he sought counselling for his stress related problems, he was advised to return to work and soldier on. However, his undiagnosed condition worsened with sleepless nights and panic attacks as he continued to work under increasingly difficult conditions, which now included investigating a fellow police officer.

Simon married again after finding his high school sweetheart from long ago, and for a while things seemed to improve. But as work pressures began to mount again, his battle with PTSD spiralled out of control. While on stress leave he attempted suicide several times. When he was finally diagnosed correctly there was no option but to leave the police force.

His journey back to a very different life brings this brave memoir to a fitting close, although of course, that story continues to this day – with hope, humour and courage, despite the incredible suffering and turmoil of the past. I highly recommend this worthwhile book – whatever your age or interests, it is a compulsive and unforgettable read.

Life Sentence 

Simon Gillard

Penguin Random House Australia