Sean's journey a shining example for overcoming mental trauma

INSPIRING: Sean Norton was nomintated for a statewide trade award, completed a printing apprenticeship and just started a job at printWest at TAFE Orange, three years after developing PTSD from a fatal car crash. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

INSPIRING: Sean Norton was nomintated for a statewide trade award, completed a printing apprenticeship and just started a job at printWest at TAFE Orange, three years after developing PTSD from a fatal car crash. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

THREE years ago, Sean Norton was suffering from crippling post-traumatic stress disorder and depression after losing a mate in a car crash, an incident which threatened to send his professional and private lives into a bottomless spiral.

On Monday, he started work at printWest at TAFE in Orange having completed his printing apprenticeship through Skillset and Spatial Services on Friday, weeks after being nominated for a coveted NSW trade award.

The reason for his transformation? His decision to “reach out and get help”.

Mr Norton hoped his story would serve as an example for those in the Orange community in the grips of mental illness.

“It’s been a struggle over the years, it didn’t get any easier and I just kept doing what I was doing and wanted to finish what I started,” he said.

Mr Norton was a passenger in the Mitchell Highway crash that killed the driver, his friend and colleague, 21-year-old Brad Eather, also from Orange, on November 10, 2015.

“He was an apprentice, we started our apprenticeship together at the same place,” Mr Norton said.

“We were in an old Rodeo with no airbags and he fell asleep behind the wheel and went to the other side of the road and had a head-on collision with a big truck. He was instantly killed.”

After the crash Mr Norton said he took a week off work, and when he returned was offered counselling but said it took awhile to hit him and he initially tried to hold back his emotions.

“I didn’t get diagnosed with PTSD until six or seven months after it,” he said.

Last week, the 26-year-old completed the apprenticeship in Bathurst a year earlier than scheduled despite having to drive past the Mitchell Highway crash site each day on his way to or from work.

“When I was going to work I was getting the flashbacks and experiencing the emotion of it all,” he said.

I set out a goal after Brad passed that I would go on and continue to do my job and not just finish my trade but excel at it at the same time.

Sean Norton

His relationships were also affected following the crash, and he tended to isolate himself socially. 

“It got to the point where I reached out and sought counselling,” Mr Norton said.

He said while having a goal had helped him get where he is, his main advice to people suffering from mental illness was to see a doctor for professional help. 

“A lot of people around my age and younger in Orange do go through a fair bit of mental health issues and stuff, my number one advice is you have to reach out and get help,” Mr Norton said.

“Not that many people will be there for you, you have to find professional help.”

Not only did he finish the apprenticeship, but in May he was one of four people in the running for the Lithographic Institute of Australia NSW graduate of the year.

Mr Norton paid tribute to those who trained him for helping him not only complete his training but win the sought-after nomination.

“If I didn’t have the support I had from through Skillset and Spatial Services, there’s no way I could have completed that trade,” he said.

“I set out a goal after Brad passed that I would go on and continue to do my job and not just finish my trade but excel at it at the same time.”

It was one of the people he met while doing similar work when he was 16 who helped him get the job at TAFE where he prints TAFE material and student resources.

“I’m loving it,” Mr Norton said.

“I don’t have to get up so early in the morning and driver over to Bathurst, I can drive home for lunch.”

He took up the apprenticeship in 2015 after being made redundant from Electrolux and due to .

  • If you or anyone you know needs help you can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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