Seeking professional help has helped get to the bottom of anxiety and depression. Picture: iStock
Seeking professional help has helped get to the bottom of anxiety and depression. Picture: iStock

‘My mental health is a closely guarded secret’

I WASN'T going to write this.

Then I was going to, but I was not going to submit it.

As you're reading this, I'll probably be checking if my world is caving in. On some level I know that it won't, but there's still some doubt.

All the while I'll be second-guessing myself, looking for proof - because I have anxiety and depression.

My diagnosis, despite being a few years ago now, remains my closely guarded secret.

This calm (seemingly), dependable (hopefully) 30-something husband, father, son, brother, friend has two mental health conditions.

If I do end up submitting this, what you're reading will have been revised dozens of times, so as to ensure you can't work out who I am.

Luckily, I have a deadline - it's National Mental Health Month, and so I need to hand this in as soon as possible - because otherwise it might never be finished.

And that's how I've always, and still manage, to get by and get my job done: as a journalist, I have constant deadlines to meet.

Being assigned to vox pops - simply asking passers-by about a topical issue - used to strike a palpable sense of debilitating fear into my heart.

For a journalist, asking questions is, um, kind of essential, just as baristas need to be able to make coffee.

However, I managed to convince myself that it was just something I didn't really like doing.

But when redundancy, serious illness in the family and adjusting to being a parent more or less happened at once, things spiralled out of control.

I needed to spend hours by myself to recover from socialising or working.

I wanted more than anything to speak to friends but I was too anxious to call them.

I felt under so much pressure that sometimes I couldn't move.

For ages I didn't say anything to anyone. Not even my wife. I thought I was a weirdo. But anxiety and depression are way more common than I used to think.

So much so there's a reasonable chance you or someone you know well has, or will experience, either or both.

Say there are 100 people in a cinema. On average 25 will be affected at some point by anxiety, which is more than just being stressed or worried but is when those feelings don't go away.

About 16 will experience depression, which is feeling sad, moody or low for long periods of time for no apparent reason.

So, if no matter the weather it feels stormy, then you could be affected.

Looking back, I've always had some obsessive-compulsive tendencies, which, I now realise, had snowballed out of control.

Counting the cracks in footpaths might seem harmless but it could also be a cry for help from a tortured mind.

At one point I wasn't able to relax until all the T-shirts in my wardrobe were nearly folded in perfect rectangles.

I am now better able than ever before to manage my condition thanks to counselling, medication, a handful of empathetic friends and above all my loving, supportive wife.

Counselling has helped manage my condition. Picture: iStock
Counselling has helped manage my condition. Picture: iStock

But I still find it difficult to choose a book from a shelf until they are all in order, by height and then by author.

If you think you know someone affected, asking: "How are you?" then lending an ear and listening without judgment may be the greatest service you can provide.

If you think you may be affected, consider sharing your struggles with a family member or friend, and/or your doctor.

Empathy can be liberating for someone who until that moment has suffered in silence. Take it from me.

If someone is struggling, chances are there's probably something, or some things, that has triggered what's going on.

Professional help can help get to the bottom of it - and it's surprisingly accessible.

I'm still not comfortable opening up completely, and letting you know my name. But I know a couple of people who have done so, and that helped me realise I'm not alone.

I also took a chance one day and opened up to someone who I knew has challenges of his own and the non-judgmental support I received has helped me immensely.

Naturally I'm anxious about what you might think, but I hope writing this, albeit anonymously, might help others out.

Best of luck and go well.

If you or someone you know is suffering from depression or anxiety, help is available.

Adults can contact

beyondblue: 1300 22 4636

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Younger people can contact

headspace: 1800 650 890

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800