Television can give us a distorted view of the world, especially when we watch the news with its tales of gloom and doom, leavened a little by an occasional good news story and the daily sport and weather reports.
But occasionally there is a program that benefits society, which serves to make us all better people.
ABC TV’s Australian Story, now in its 21st season, is such a program.
Started by eminent Australian journalist Caroline Jones in May 1996, Australian Story certainly achieves its aim of presenting a varied and contrasting picture of contemporary Australia and Australians from many different perspectives, resulting in a wider spectrum of coverage of issues and individuals.
Having its subjects narrate their own stories makes it more real, engaging us in a way that we don’t experience to the same extent in a news or current affairs program.
Australian Federal Police Commander Grant Edwards was recently profiled on Australian Story, appropriately timed for the lead-up to Father’s Day.
Called ‘The Strong Man’, it showed us a mountain of a man, capable of pulling locomotives, planes and semi-trailers with his sheer physical strength. But the other side to this enormous strength was an emotional vulnerability stemming from some disturbing projects he had dealt with in the AFP.
So it was a total surprise and shock to Edwards when one day he found himself sitting under a tree in floods of tears.
“I was a strong guy physically, I thought I was a strong guy mentally. It was probably the greatest wake-up in my life when I realised that I wasn’t,” Edwards said in Australian Story.
Edwards’ AFP work was of the heavy-duty variety, including heading up a team investigating child exploitation.
“I can still describe many of those images because they burn into your brain and you just can’t get rid of them, they’re there forever. I just can’t explain the amount of anxiety that builds up, and the anger,” he said.
But he did the stereotypical Aussie male thing, and hardened up and got on with the job. Later a tough year training police in Afghanistan followed, and life began to unravel after that.
Diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, he shied away from treatment because any sign of admitting to a mental health issue was a career killer in his field.
It took a breakdown and the suicide of an AFP colleague to make Edwards see the light and go public with his own struggles, making him an agent for change within the AFP.
Today, Edwards is on a mission to remove the stigma of mental health across society.
As Christians we can rejoice that there is, amongst the gloom and doom and reality television, a show like Australian Story to challenge our society’s attitudes and promote healthy change and inner strength.
Long may it be so.