'Let's tie up the black dog'

Mary Woods, left, Mary Carrigan and Liz Wood.
Mary Woods, left, Mary Carrigan and Liz Wood.

Mary Woods began her quest to better understand mental health issues when her then 26-year-old son David, who lives and works on the family's wheat farm, suffered depression on two occasions.

 She was accompanied by two friends, Liz Wood and Mary Carrigan, to a night about depression in rural New South Wales. 

It was there the three decided they wanted to spread the message that it was OK to admit you weren't doing so well and to seek help. 

"There's a bit of an opinion, especially for men, of 'if it's not bleeding or broken, there's nothing wrong'," Mary said. 

The name of the not-for-profit organisation, Tie Up the Black Dog Committee comes from Winston Churchill's descriptor of depression - it followed him like a black dog, he would say. 

Mary noticed a change in her son David when he started withdrawing. 

"He's a very gregarious, happy natured sort of a person and that all stopped. He became very withdrawn. He has a house here on the farm and he would go into his house and we didn't see much of him. He didn't go to town, he didn't go to the football." 

Mary said her son sought help and was diagnosed with depression. He was given medication, which worked extremely well, but he later decided to ease himself off it and that led to another bout of depression. 

Since then, Mary said her son had been ensuring he lives a healthy lifestyle - he no longer smokes, he doesn't drink much and he eats a healthy diet. 

Mary said rates of depression were alarming, particularly for men - with about one is six suffering from it during their lifetime. 

She said suicide was another huge issue in rural and regional Australia. Men on farms often feel isolated and it doesn't help that they don't have a break from work, Mary said. 

"The problem for farmers is we live with our job," Mary said. 

"Your business surrounds you and you live with it 24/7." 

Holidays, which are important for good mental health, can be few and far between for farmers. 

"People in other jobs tend to be able to switch off a bit better than farmers," Mary said. 

The Tie Up the Black Dog Committee brings speakers - health professionals and people who have battled with mental health issues - to communities in rural Queensland. 

Mary said it was important for people to realise it was OK to ask for help. She said another thing she had learnt from a health professional was that it was OK to ask people if they had ever considered taking their own life. 

"It's important to be open with people and it's good for them to be able to talk about it," Mary said.

Mary said there was still a stigma attached to mental illness. She said sometimes people in Goondiwindi would seek support from health professionals outside of the town because they wouldn't want people to think they were suffering from mental illness. 

"In the five years we have been doing it, it has become much less stigmatised, but I still hear stories about people who are told 'why don't you snap out of it?'"

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. 

Do you have a story to share? Join the the conversation at www.connectpink.com.au