By Jess Baker
Almost half of Australians will face mental ill-health during their lives – and yet few will speak up.
Southern Downs Councillor Andrew Gale said he hopes that by telling his story he can, at least in some small way, help to change that.
In late April to early May, Cr Gale spent two weeks at a hospital in Toowoomba receiving treatment for a mental health condition.
During that time, he participated in an ordinary council meeting via video link.
Cr Gale said the decision to participate was completely his own and was approved by his treating doctors and Southern Downs Mayor Vic Pennisi.
“The opportunity was there for me to participate in the meeting and Zoom in, so I took that opportunity to do that because I take my position seriously,” he said.
“I think 2020 and 2021 have shown us that people can remotely work for all sorts of reasons and it’s legal for me to be able to do that.
“Two weeks is a long time to sit in a hospital room.”
Cr Gale said the medication he had been taking for his mental health condition was changed in late April and he needed to be monitored in a hospital for a short time afterward.
He said he had been taking antidepressants for the last 15 years or so, since he left the police force in 2005, and felt it was important to speak up about his journey.
A police officer for almost 20 years, Cr Gale said what he witnessed on the front line almost broke him.
“I didn’t know that it was okay to have that empathy,” he said.
“And finally the jug just gets so full that you can’t contain it.”
Cr Gale said he attempted to take his own life and descended into a “spiral of self-destruction”.
“It’s an absolutely awful way to go through life and it’s an awful thing to subject your family to, to (have them) watch you go through this process as well,” he said.
He said he became “anxious about feeling anxious” and struggled living with the fear and shame of others discovering he had depression.
Ultimately, it was that fear and shame that compelled him to try and break the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.
“I’m not afraid of being afraid anymore, and I’m not afraid of speaking out,” Cr Gale said.
“And I’m honoured that the community has selected me to represent them in my role with (the) council. I’ll always speak out, whenever I’m given the opportunity, to let people know that it’s okay not to be okay sometimes.”
He said it was important people understood help is out there, and there is no shame in asking for it.
“Even if it’s going to see the Men’s Shed, ringing me up and having a chat, (or) ringing someone else up that you know,” he said.
“It’s just part of life. We all struggle.”
If you or anyone you know needs help:
Lifeline on 13 11 14
MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636
Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
Headspace on 1800 650 890
Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800
Those interested in attending Warwick Men’s Shed can reach secretary Ian Stevens on 0490 170 569.