Teamwork helps beat black dog

Kate MatthewsCountryman

There are two types of pride - positive pride and negative pride, according to Ralph Bolton.

"Negative pride is when you are too proud to tell someone that you need help - it has the ability to kill you," he said.

Almost three years ago, the well-known Corrigin real estate and fertiliser consultant attempted suicide.

Mr Bolton was suffering from depression, a mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

His wife, Peta, found him and saved his life, helped by St John Ambulance volunteers and the local general practitioner.

Mr Bolton's suicide attempt shocked the whole community.

The extroverted 63-year-old was the last person anyone thought would be depressed or suicidal.

In the lead up to the attempt on his own life, Mr Bolton began to feel that there was no hope, a condition triggered by a work-related situation beyond his control.

In hindsight, Mr Bolton recognises that four months before his suicide attempt things "really started to go off the rails".

But his 'negative' pride meant he did not acknowledge that medical help was needed.

"You become very good at disguising the truth and become a really good liar about how you feel," Mr Bolton said.

Excuses were made to avoid seeing family and friends and the once extrovert became withdrawn and "just didn't want to go anywhere".

Friends thought the signs of Mr Bolton losing weight loss were due to a virus or being tired.

Working and conversing with clients for him was difficult and at home Mrs Bolton watched on not knowing what to do.

Mr Bolton would not get out bed, which was out of character, he had no motivation, no libido and suffered involuntary physical actions.

Driving a vehicle was almost impossible as the depression deepened.

Mrs Bolton's frustration mounted and it was only through her determination he finally visited a doctor.

Mr Bolton's negative pride meant he could not see the local doctor - it would be embarrassing if anyone found out.

Instead, Mrs Bolton took her husband to Perth to a GP who diagnosed depression and medication was prescribed.

But most of the tablets went down the drain, as did an increased dosage from a second check-up, all without Mrs Bolton's knowledge.

Her mounting concern was rebuffed by the doctor but less than two weeks later, Mr Bolton tried to kill himself.

Looking back, Mr Bolton said he obviously needed to see a psychiatrist trained to deal with someone with serious depression.

"You become selfish," he said. "I was thinking we owned our home and were financially secure and Peta would survive on those assets.

"My thoughts were obsessed with methods of committing suicide so that I could escape the hell I thought I was in."

The road to recovery has been tough.

Mr Bolton spent 18 days in recovery, including four days in the psychiatric ward at Royal Perth Hospital.

Then, thanks to his wife's determination, he spent 14 days at the Perth Clinic, a private facility that treats depression.

Mr Bolton had sessions with a psychiatrist, clinical psychologists and took part in cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, involving group therapy.

"Group therapy was where I found out I wasn't alone with this illness and there can be someone worse off than yourself," he said.

The Perth Clinic, the Marion Centre and Hollywood Hospital are the only private units where depressed mental health patients can be treated apart from Graylands Hospital or public hospital psychiatric wards.

"There were all types of people there - headmasters, occupational therapists, students and farmers - pretty much all walks of life," Mr Bolton said.

"Depression does not discriminate."

At a cost of $600 a day, the Boltons believe private health cover is essential for mental health patients but a safety net and no qualifying period were needed for those without.

Having been treated in public and private facilities, Mr Bolton hopes all depressed mental health patients will one day be able to access facilities like the Perth Clinic because the stigma attached to Graylands and public psychiatric wards stops many people from seeking treatment.

"The State Government allocated $13 million towards suicide prevention about two years ago," he said.

"It appeared at the time very little of this had been used because no-one knew what to do with it. Why not use all or some of these funds for something with a bit of guts, like subsidising increased health insurance benefits for those in need or assisting with the wavering of waiting periods for private health funds?"

From a partner's perspective, Mr Bolton believes mental illness wards in public hospitals desperately need the same government funding and charity fundraising as cancer wards.

"There is a lot more awareness of mental illness now but if you walk into a public psychiatric ward, from a partner's perspective, it's the pits," she said.

"There are people there who are just happy to have a roof over their head."

Today, Mr Bolton is back in Corrigin having had to face the community. His plan, with help from the Perth Clinic, was to be honest and open about his experience.

"It was not easy at first but gradually getting back into normal life was made possible by a very compassionate community we will never be able to thank enough," Mr Bolton said.

His message as a sufferer to others in need is: "Depression is insidious. If you recognise the symptoms seek help from a councillor or GP but more importantly, make sure you get pushed in the right direction because if you are severely depressed, you will need access to a professional centre with psychiatric help."


For support, call Lifeline 131 114, Mensline 1300 789 978 or the Regional Men's Health Initiative on 9690 2277

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