IT’s not easy for Brett Gainsford to talk about his mental health journey over the past 20 years.
But he refuses to let the discomfort hold him back.
Instead, Mr Gainsford shares his experiences with depression and bipolar disorder as often as he can, with as many people as he can, including at the annual bowls day fundraisers he holds for Beyond Blue and The Port Stephens Suicide Prevention Network.
“It’s still fairly raw, but I think it’s worth getting it out there that you can be happy again,” he said.
“I want to get that awareness everywhere. I’ve told a bit of my story and I’ve had more than a dozen people come to me saying they’re going through it or have been through it.
“If I can help just one person, it’s worth it.”
Mr Gainsford started seeing a Newcastle doctor on a weekly basis about 13 years ago to discuss feeling depressed. “I did not know what was happening. I had a full-time job, a wife, a house, I didn’t want for anything, but I was not happy,” he said. “It would spiral once it got a hold of me.”
Mr Gainsford said he was at home one day and having suicidal thoughts, when his wife Jacqui arrived unannounced. “I told her ‘I don’t want to live anymore’,” he said. “She said ‘I know’.”
After spending six weeks in Lingard Private Hospital, Mr Gainsford started holding fundraisers for Beyond Blue. He had a second major depressive episode in 2011.
“But now things couldn’t be better – it’s just really good,” he said.
Mr Gainsford attributed his recovery to the love of his supportive family – and willingness to seek help.
“I’ve played footy and cricket all my life, I go to the pub – I’m a ‘normal’ person and that’s why I like to get this message out there,” he said. “People think they’re a man and they’re big and brave and strong and can’t ask for help. But there’s no good being big and brave and strong if you’re miserable.
“Let yourself get help, let someone help you – it’s the easiest and best way.”
Mr Gainsford has welcomed Port Stephens MP Kate Washington’s forum, saying “not too many people don’t think mental health is an issue”, following the suicides of at least four men in his age group in the area in the past five years.
He said Port Stephens could benefit from more mental health services, including an informal support group for people who wanted to discuss how they were feeling and hear from people who had improved their health.
“You need people to say ‘I’ve been in that situation and am now going well, I got out the other side.”
Mr Gainsford also suggested a campaign encouraging people, especially men, to seek help.
“Perhaps it could be ‘Let yourself be helped’ or ‘Let yourself feel better’,” he said. “As much as it is widespread and every case is different, everyone needs help.”
Lifeline 13 11 14 MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78