What would people say? What would people think?

By Dustin Halse

01 June 2019

My opinion piece originally published on The Age.

I couldn’t quite work out what was going on.

It was the week before Christmas, and I was about to be sworn in as a Member of Victoria’s Parliament.

By confronting the culture of silence that surrounds mental illness, we can confront the stigma that so often allows it to prevail.

For my colleagues, it was a moment of great joy and celebration. But I was completely numb.

I was feeling down and flat. I had become agitated. I had disengaged from my friends. I was constantly tired.

I just wanted it all to stop. I just wanted to feel normal again.

Thankfully, my partner took me to the GP, and I began specialist treatment immediately.

I learnt that my situation had been building for months.

And while I’d ignored the signs, my partner had not. Because of her action, I was able to get the help I needed.

And on February 19, I shared my experience in the Victorian Parliament, in my very first speech.

By sharing my story so publicly, I came to find there are countless others who have stories of their own.

Mums and dads. Brothers and sisters.

Best mates. Neighbours. Work colleagues.

Those, who in their own lives, have silently struggled.

Not just with an illness – but also the pervasive stigma that goes with it.

It’s why Victoria’s Royal Commission into Mental Health matters so much.

By confronting the culture of silence that surrounds mental illness, we can confront the stigma that so often allows it to prevail.

The Royal Commission is also about fronting up to another fundamental truth: Here in Australia, we don’t have the mental health system we should. We just don’t.

While I’ve been fortunate in receiving wonderful treatment, I know that my experience is not universal.

I also know the system’s shortcomings are not due to a lack of commitment or compassion.

Across the board, government investment has increased, with more programs and more prevention.

And then there are those dedicated mental health professionals – lifesavers– who keep the system ticking over, despite its many flaws. We know we need more of them.

But despite all of this investment and all this energy, it’s clear that too many people are still slipping through the cracks.

It’s why people having their voices heard as part of the royal commission is so important.

Because it’s Victorians who know how the system is broken. Who understand what needs to be fixed.

I know how hard it can be.

When I first shared my story I wasn’t sure up until the final moment whether I would be able to talk about my experience with depression.

What would people say? What would people think?

But now I’ve seen that by giving voice to our own experiences, we can end that culture of silence.

We can begin to fix that flawed system.

And together, we can change lives– and hopefully save lives along the way.


Article originally published on The Age.