Vet shares his personal mental health battle

Vet shares his personal mental health battle

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When Richard Hall stands in front of a metaphoric mirror he sees part familiar person and part complete stranger.

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Daily meditation and regular exercise through mountain biking and windsurfing have been critical in helping Richard Hall manage his depression.

Daily meditation and regular exercise through mountain biking and windsurfing have been critical in helping Richard Hall manage his depression.

WHEN Richard Hall stands in front of a metaphoric mirror he sees part familiar person and part complete stranger.

On one side is the competent cattle artificial breeding specialist and veterinarian, commonly known as Dr Dick - on the other a dysfunctional self-defeatist.

The 60-year-old from Margaret River has battled depression for almost two decades and he is keen to tell his story in the hope he may help others handle its debilitating effects.

Typical of the condition, as we speak there are as many laughs as there are tears.

Mr Hall said there were days when he was on top of the world, mostly when he was doing what he spent six years at university studying for - working as a cattle reproductive vet, and his band of loyal clients will tell you he is equal to the best there is.

But there are also days when he feels crushed by the weight of the world slipping in to a cocoon, shrouded in mental fog and often unable to get off his couch for days at a time.

On those days Mr Hall is taken to rolling on to the floor and hoping the jolt awakens his conscious to get him up and doing something - anything.

In that state he's super insular and totally self-absorbed and it's cost him relationships, business, his house and ultimately, almost his life.

For those who know Mr Hall it's hard to imagine this seemingly laid back surfing dude, good at sport, with an academic mind and whose good looks and quick wit have won him plenty of female attention over the years, could ever doubt himself to the point of wanting to pull down the shutters to oblivion.

But it's often the high achievers who are most at risk.

"People just don't understand," Mr Hall said.

As a cattle artificial breeding specialist veterinarian Richard Hall, Margaret River, spends plenty of time looking through a microscope.

As a cattle artificial breeding specialist veterinarian Richard Hall, Margaret River, spends plenty of time looking through a microscope.

"How can they - unless you have been through it yourself or been super close to someone who has it is very hard to comprehend?

"I don't blame people for that and we are getting better at having conversations about depression, but there is still a long way to go particularly with us blokes and particularly with blokes in agriculture.

"And the impersonal world of call centres and automated responses does not help those with depression.

"People look at me and think I am a pretty easy-going guy without a care in the world but they have no idea what's going on inside."

In reality Mr Hall shouldn't still be with us to tell his tale.

He has twice been within a whisker of taking his own life.

On the first occasion 10 years ago he had picked out a tree on a country road after leaving a client's farm.

Uncannily the ABC radio program he was listening to at the time turned to a discussion on mental health and suicide.

Mr Hall pulled over and began listening to the heartache from callers left behind by loved ones who had taken their own lives.

He thought of his son Hamish, now a 22-year old apprentice electrician, whom he shares with his former wife Jacquie and then he picked up the phone and rang the program.

Mr Hall was asked if he wanted to use an alias but chose to use his own name and was floored when he got a call a couple of days later from a cattleman he knew well but hadn't seen for 12 months.

"He told me he was sitting in his car with his gun ready to end his life when he heard me on the radio and put it back down," Mr Hall said.

"I had no idea he was suffering from depression until that moment.

"I really fear there are going to be more agricultural-based people at risk in the next six to 12 months, given the way the season has been.

"There are plenty of people who are having issues with lack of livestock feed and water and it's been a tough year for crops in some areas, so there will be some financial challenges and these are things that can put pressure on relationships and tip people over the edge," Mr Hall said.

"I can't stress enough the importance of getting some help.

"I thought I was smart enough and big enough to sort my issues out myself, but I wasn't.

"I don't think anyone is, although it's common to think you can.

"I know it's hard for country people because they usually have to travel distances to get to medical help, so there is the temptation to not bother.

"And they are often shielded from alternative forms of treatment which are now being seen by members of the medical profession as valuable adjuncts in the battle with depression."

Mr Hall said getting help, learning to meditate, eating better, reducing alcohol consumption and getting plenty of exercise have all made a huge difference in his life.

"I'm not a hundred per cent cured and possibly might never be, but since learning to meditate I have taken a huge leap forward in my ability to manage day-to-day life, something many people take for granted but for those with depression can be so difficult," he said.

"I was introduced to meditation by an Eastern States cattle friend who rang for a chat and found me slumped over my steering wheel in a parking bay crying uncontrollably.

"He told me about his mother's battle with the dark side, how it had helped her and gave me the number of Tim Brown, a Sydney-based expert.

"Typical of me I thought I can do this myself so instead I punched meditation in to the search engine and selected a guided self-learning course.

"I've got to say I was sceptical but I felt its effect immediately.

"I couldn't get my head off my lap and it felt like someone had put a drill piece through my head and although I didn't understand why, I thought there has to be something in this.

"I now meditate twice a day for 20 minutes morning and afternoon, regardless of where I am, along with mountain bike riding daily and windsurfing regularly.

"And I did go and do a two-day course with Tim Brown and learned a heap more about the process.

"Meditating has made a huge difference in clearing my head, I am back reading books and sleeping properly again.

"There were times before when I couldn't face picking up the phone or opening an email.

"I don't think about the past as much now and I'm not frightened to think about the future."

Mr Hall said he wanted to tell his story to encourage people not to make the same mistakes he had.

"Don't try and treat yourself like I did," he said.

"Talk to someone, anyone and get help early.

"Organisations like Lifeline and Black Dog do a great job.

"And don't be like me and try and avoid medication.

"I threw my medication away because I didn't like the side effects of feeling like a zombie and the increased weight gain and while I thought I was travelling OK I actually wasn't.

"I retreated into my own world which was fine for me but not for those close to me and while I didn't plummet to suicidal depths, I wasn't much fun to be around.

"I actually now think medication is an important part of treatment especially in the early stages when you are being stabilised and a plan of action is being worked out."

Mr Hall has a few other tips too.

"Stay off social media - it creates conflict in your head, and keep a happy journal," he said.

"Every day I write down four good things from the day which for me can be as simple as a beautiful little blue wren I saw going about its life this morning."

And for those looking for the signs of depression Mr Hall said things like poor sleeping, erratic spending, putting things off and unusually aggressive, dismissive or selfish behaviour are some of the classic indicators he has seen.

  • If you or someone you know needs help contact Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or headspace.org.au
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