Opposition spokesman for healthy lifestyle Kevin Humphries, member for Clarence Steve Cansdell and guest speaker and former Liberal leader John Brogden in Grafton for a mental health forum.
Opposition spokesman for healthy lifestyle Kevin Humphries, member for Clarence Steve Cansdell and guest speaker and former Liberal leader John Brogden in Grafton for a mental health forum. ADAM HOURIGAN

Brogden's battle with black dog

IN August 2005 John Brogden stabbed himself several times in a bid to end the misery he’d brought upon himself in the preceding manic weeks.

Aged 35 and leading the NSW Opposition, Mr Brogden had come under fire for some ill-chosen words about the wife of former premier Bob Carr and for making inappropriate advances towards some female journalists at a heady function in July that year.

A month after the attempted suicide, Mr Brogden retired from politics and set about getting his head right.

Yesterday in Grafton, Mr Brogden spoke candidly about that time, about his patronage of Lifeline and about the hope he has for the future of mental health services in NSW – especially under the Coalition, which is expected to seize government in just over a fortnight.

“At that point in my life I was working six to seven days a week and five or six nights per week and you’d still say ‘no’ to 10 things,” Mr Brogden said.

“I was spinning out of control ... there’s no doubt I lost my balance.”

Mr Brogden said many people around him were shocked he suffered from depression.

“The thing about people with mental illness is you build your defences up around it,” he said.

Mr Brogden, who had suffered depression for 10 years prior to his suicide attempt, is now on two types of medication for his condition.

Quitting politics, he said, was a mental health choice which meant he would not be going back, despite a number of overtures to return.

“I might be mad, but I’m not crazy,” he said yesterday with a laugh.

Mr Brogden, who was touted as a strong contender for premier in the day, said he was not bitter about politics and promised to “never do a Mark Latham”.

Instead Mr Brogden, who can boast he was the youngest ever state opposition leader in Australia, said he would use his political profile to make a difference to the issue of mental health.

Speaking of yesterday’s mental health forum at the Grafton District Services club, Mr Brogden said the fact the event was so well attended (50 registrations) was testimony to a changed attitude to mental health.

“I think we’ll look back at this period now and realise this was the time we brought mental health out of the shadows,” he said.

“But none of that matters unless you have got the services to fix it.”

Reflecting on his own experiences, Mr Brogden said his support network was vital to his mental health.

“When you are feeling suicidal you think it’s impossible for things to get better. But we know, certainly at Lifeline we are confident that most suicides can be prevented,” he said.

Member for Clarence Steve Cansdell spoke of his affection and admiration for Mr Brogden.

“As leader of the Opposition he was fantastic, then he crashed big time and came back a much stronger person ... he’s beautifully stronger and he is contributing more now I believe,” he said.

One of the more practical strategies for suicide prevention is infrastructure for suicide “hot spots”, Mr Brogden said. This included such steps as putting up fences at The Gap or nets at known suicide bridges.

The Opposition spokesman for healthy lifestyle, Kevin Humphries, who also visited the Clarence Valley yesterday, said such infrastructure would be funded as part of the Coalition’s mental health policy, which will be announced today.

Aside from his Lifeline commitments, Mr Brogden is also the CEO of the Financial Services Council.

I think we’ll look back at this period now and realise this was the time we brought mental health out of the shadows



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