MENTAL illness is hard to recognise — even in close family and friends — because it is an invisible illness.
But, all-too-often, it is also silent.
Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. But despite widespread efforts to tackle deep-rooted stigma, many, tragically, will still have to battle feelings of shame and failure when opening up about their struggles.
This is no truer than in rural and regional areas such as Kyabram and district. The bush is the last bastion of the bloke. But it doesn’t stop with the men.
There is that almost traditional stoicism where country people have faced challenges on so many levels — drought, floods, fires, as well as all the other pressures of life and work in the bush — and survived. It’s a stoicism which, while strengthening, can also silence — many feeling too ashamed to open up and ask for help.
Especially when it comes to mental health.
But nine locals from Echuca Moama and surrounding towns have decided to break the silence, sharing their stories of heartbreak and hope if it means others will feel they can also speak up — including Kyabram’s Ryan Grace.
To read this story and others in full, pick up a copy of the next echucamoama magazine, out later this month, or watch the full video series at riverineherald.com.au.
■ If you or someone you know needs help now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. If it becomes a crisis go immediately to the nearest hospital or phone 000.
HE WAS just 24 but life’s short journey had taken Kyabram’s Ryan Grace to the darkest of places. And in no doubt he was about to end his life.
Since he was 16, when he discovered his dad was not his biological father, he had struggled with feelings of failure, shame and low self-worth.
To the point where life seemed too painful to keep living.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him — in fact, he’d make sure you didn’t. Like far too many men and women, he’d become an expert at hiding his inner struggles — always the life of the party, he’d be the one out partying until dawn.
Until he’d arrive home, exhausted, and would burst into tears. But one day and one charade too many, it became too much. In a devastating series of events, he lost his job, then his apartment, then all his savings — and had to move back home with his estranged parents.
Left alone one night, the “kettle boiled over” and he decided to end his life.
“I couldn't pretend anymore. I couldn't fake a smile. I was exhausted and sick and tired of feeling a failure, shame, doubt and low self-esteem,” he said.
“The only way I could see to escape that was suicide.”
In the middle of his attempt, Ryan had a sudden change of mind and realised he didn’t want to be another tragic suicide statistic.
As he comprehended what he had almost done, how close he had come to death, Ryan curled into a ball and wept. It wasn’t a complete healing — but it was a turning point that might save his sanity and his life.
And in the subsequent years he began to take small steps towards restoration. From smaller changes, such as altering his diet and attending a gym to the crucial, big-ticket ones including opening up with others about his emotions and — biggest of all — repairing his relationship with his parents, who he’d struggled to forgive since discovering the truth about his father.
Ryan said his newfound Christian faith played a crucial role in this healing.
“Just because I found God doesn't mean my life just started working out,” he admitted.
“But I slowly discovered God's not about perfect beings that live perfect lives in a perfect world. He wants people just as they are.”
Now 31, Ryan has made a career of talking about feelings.
A far cry from the young bloke who never opened up.
He is now a counsellor at Teen Challenge, a 25-bed men's alcohol and drug live-in rehab centre in Kyabram, where he’s encouraging other men struggling with mental health to speak up.
“People don't follow titles. They follow courage,” he said.
“When men speak up about mental health, it doesn’t matter who you are. Other men will follow.”