Paul Walsh has been a BeyondBlue ambassador for the last 15 years and spoke at the Farmer’s Breakfast about mental illness in Australia.
“One in five males and about one in six females will deal with mental illness throughout their life,” Mr Walsh said.
“I’m not a big one for statistics, but in Australia today 200 people will attempt suicide. Nine people, sadly, will lose their lives as a result of suicide today. Out of those 200 people, 30 per cent of those will try again in the next three months.”
“The number one killer in Australia at the moment is cardiovascular heart-related illness; by 2020, the number one killer of Australians will be suicide.”
“People use the word selfish; that it’s a terribly selfish thing to do. Certainly from my point of view, the last thing I thought of was the impact on other people. I thought that by taking my own life, everyone else’s lives would be so much better because the difficult person who’s causing grief in their life is no longer part of it. That’s the mindset.
“People don’t want to die, they just don’t have the ability to cope at that time. And that’s tragic.” Mr Walsh spoke about ways to spot depression.
“The simplest way to look at it is when you stop enjoying things in life that you normally enjoy, ask yourself why. If you’re not happy with the answer, speak to a loved one, speak to your GP, speak to a psychologist,” he said.
“Anxiety’s one of those things that we all have, to a certain extent. Low level anxiety is not a fear of doing something; it’s the urge to get it right. But when it becomes allconsuming, it’s unhealthy.”
“The health system in Australia is difficult sometimes. But go to your GP. You can get on a mental health plan; you can get ten free bulk-billed Three people from Melbourne took it upon themselves to load a trailer full of non-perishables and drive to Narrandera to help farmers struggling with the drought.”
Paul Walsh, Darshan Paul and David Gray came to Narrandera on Tuesday for the Farmer’s Breakfast hosted by the Narrandera Shire Council, with the dual purpose of distributing their donated goods and to give a presentation for BeyondBlue. The goods will be distributed through the Lions Club.
“There are a lot of people who care. There are a lot of people who want to help in whatever small way they can,” said Narrandera Shire Council Economic Development manager Peter Dale, speaking at the Farmer’s breakfast.
“These guys are typical of people who aren’t asked to do anything, and don’t want to be recognised for anything; they’re just going on their way to do it.”
Mr Paul spoke about the concerns he had that farmers may be reluctant to take donations.
“People obviously have a lot of pride and don’t want to ask or want to accept it. If you know of anyone who might need it, talk to Neil Davison at the Lions Club.
“This stuff will be at the Lions Club storage. It’s all nonperishable, all things you use every day. They might only want one or two things, they might want a lot of it, they psych sessions as well. Money’s not an issue any more.”
“The hardest point is getting help for someone who doesn’t want it. If you are concerned about people, then take them to the doctor. If we care about people enough, then keep asking the question. If they won’t read something, print it out and hand it to them,” Mr Walsh said.
Mr Walsh shared his own story of his struggles with depression and anxiety. A well-adjusted kid who left school at 16 to become a fitter and turner, Mr Walsh joined the Victorian Police in 1991 and by 1999 he had become a detective.
“Before I joined the police I loved baseball, I did a bit of fishing and I enjoyed going out with my mates – I had mates from school. But once I joined the police, all my mates that weren’t coppers just fell by the wayside. I didn’t have a work-life balance anymore,” Mr Walsh explained.
As part of training to become a detective, Mr Walsh took part in an in-house training course which involved a lengthy case study into child exploitation.
“I saw a really traumatic video of a child exploitation investigation. And this video really affected me. Us students, we all complained about it – we don’t need to see that sort of thing.”
“I came back after this course and I didn’t realise how much this video had affected me. I was working on the 11th floor of the police complex I was at and I’d start getting off on the 12th floor, or I’d forget to get off the lift and suddenly I’d be on the 18th floor. I couldn’t even remember my own mobile number.” In addition to memory loss, Mr Walsh started losing concentration.
“A report that might take me only ten or 15 minutes might take me an hour now. Things that should take me an hour are now taking me all day.”
A reluctance to ask for help meant that Mr Walsh’s condition worsened. Despite being happily married with two small sons, he found his relationship with his wife began to deteriorate.
Work relationships also struggled, as Mr Walsh found himself worried about being viewed as weak if he was to ask for help.
“I started to isolate myself from people and starting to over-think, got myself very anxious and not sleeping at night because I’d lie awake thinking about things. I still didn’t even know that it was the video that affected me so much at this time. I kept ploughing on, and getting more angry and frustrated with myself.”
Mr Walsh soon found himself lying to his wife and colleagues about what was wrong. He began drinking more to calm himself down and self-medicating.
“I should have gone to the doctor. The police have a welfare unit, but I was afraid to go to that because I was worried about my boss finding out; it was what we called a career-limiting move.
That’s an unfortunate part of the police lifestyle. It’s getting better now, but there’s still that macho attitude.
“I guess there’s something similar to that with country people as well, especially on the land; there’s a feeling that I can tackle anything, I don’t need people’s help. There’s also that isolation on the land. Those sorts of things mean people need to challenge themselves.”
Go get some help, go talk to someone. There’s nothing wrong with getting help.” Things finally came to a head for Mr Walsh when he publically broke down while giving evidence in court. Realising that he needed to get help, he made contact with the Police Welfare Unit.
“I was still so concerned about somebody finding out that I was unwell that I gave a false name. I went and saw a counsellor, but for the next ten months I was only telling her about 40 per cent of what was actually going on. How could she possibly help me?”
Refusing medication, Mr Walsh’s condition continued to worsen until he became suicidal.
“I’d be driving and shaking and sweating as I’d look at the trucks on the highway, wondering if I should drive into one. Or I’d be looking at the trees, or wondering if a building was high enough, is that bridge high enough, is that truck going fast enough.”
A planned suicide attempt led to Mr Walsh’s hospitalisation – the first of many.
“I got out of hospital and got straight back into work, but stopped taking my medication, so the next crash was worse than the first. I lasted about eight months before I was back in the hospital. I was still not being honest with the people around me. But mostly, I wasn’t being honest with myself.”
Mr Walsh and his wife separated in 2003 and he only saw his sons every second weekend.
“I made the decision, the very conscious decision, to take my own life. I can talk about it very bluntly, this decision. It’s something that needs to be talked about openly. Everyone’s very good at saying are you okay, but we’re not very good at what happens next.
“Ask them – do you feel safe? Do you feel suicidal? There’s nothing wrong with asking that question. It’s a big word, and it’s a serious word, but the end result is nine people today.” Mr Walsh chose to take his own life in 2004, picking a weekend after he would have his sons.
“I took them places, I had conversations with them – it was all things that I thought would get them through life. This is how broken a mind gets. I thought that in that weekend I could tell them everything they needed to be okay when I was gone.”
After waving his sons goodbye, Mr Walsh went into his house and attempted suicide. He was fortunate in that his sister and her husband came to see him.
“I was very fortunate that my family had me under surveillance – as a copper I didn’t know that I was being watched. They saw through the window the situation I’d created and they kicked the door in and called an ambulance.”
“There was no lying anymore about how serious it was. There was no bullshitting.”
The turning point came during Mr Walsh’s hospitalisation.
“Every other time I had been in hospital I’d told my wife not to bring the boys; I didn’t want them seeing me like that. But this time, she brought the boys in to see me in hospital. When my boys came in, they didn’t care that I was a detective. They didn’t care anything about my reputation. They just cared about their dad; that unconditional love that children give us.”
“They came in and were jumping on the bed, and I realised at that point what was important in life. It wasn’t what people thought of me. It wasn’t how good a detective I was, or how many beers I could drink on a Saturday night. It was these two boys. There was nothing else that was as important.”
From then on, Mr Walsh took full control of his treatment and recovery. “From that point on, I’ve never lied about how I feel. I started carrying two notebooks. One was my detective notebook and the other one was my notebook.”
“If I was driving on the road and I saw a truck, and I thought, I want to hit that truck, I pulled over and wrote it down. So when I saw the psychologist, I could hand her the notebook and say, here’s what’s been going on in the past week.”
“Between that and being serious about medication, in about three months, my world just changed. It went from black and white to being in colour again.”
Mr Walsh’s recovery led to rebuilding the damaged relationships with family and friends, as well as a promotion at work. Despite his commitment, he was hospitalised again in 2007 and decided to leave the police force as a result. He now works part-time for a private investigation firm and has been a BeyondBlue Ambassador ever since.