A CHANCE meeting with a farm machinery implement salesman made Richard Wilson realise the lethargy and listlessness he was suffering might be a mental rather than physical problem.
Mr Wilson was sleeping 15 hours a day, had little interest in farm work and had become a recluse.
“I was exhausted doing nothing,” he said. “I couldn’t explain it and it was scary.”
He feared he had a terminal illness such as cancer.
That was about seven years ago and Mr Wilson was operating a family cropping business near the tiny village of Whitwarta about 100km north of Adelaide.
The salesman told Mr Wilson about the mental struggles he suffered after being involved in an horrific accident.
After listening to him Mr Wilson thought: “Bloody hell, that’s what I am experiencing.”
He made an appointment to see a doctor the next day who confirmed Mr Wilson’s own view that he was suffering from depression.
That set Mr Wilson on a path to recovery. He participated in a four-week program involving talking to local mental health specialists for a couple of hours each week.
The doctor also prescribed a medication which Mr Wilson said was essential to maintaining his wellbeing.
After six weeks he regained his normal sleeping patterns and started looking forward to work again.
The only hiccup occurred when he unwisely decided to wean himself off his medication and his mental state quickly slipped again.
Now he religiously takes his medication along with a blood pressure pill at breakfast every morning.
Mr Wilson believes a combination of factors caused his depression including the ending of a family partnership which didn’t go as he would have liked, the fact he was getting older and no longer able to do the things he could do when he was young, and the stress involved in buying a large pastoral station north of White Cliffs in far western NSW.
“I never thought I would run out of energy, I was always bullet proof, but I found out I was slowing down,” he said.
“It came on pretty suddenly, that’s what flattened me, I was sleeping 15 hours a day.
“But I kept it hidden. I didn’t go to the football for six months which was a big part of my life, you tend to avoid to contact with people.”
Mr Wilson loves Aussie Rules football and had played a number of key roles at his local Hummocks Watchman Eagles club based in Port Wakefield.
“I played until I was 40, coached and was president of club.”
Mr Wilson said his family and friends didn’t suspect anything was wrong as he made excuses for his tiredness.
“I think men are pretty good at covering things up,” he said.
Mr Wilson told his wife Shirley and the rest of his family as soon as he came home from the doctor after his initial diagnosis of depression.
“I have received plenty of support from them,” he said.
“I was open about it, which you have to be, you have to be able to talk about it.
“The biggest thing is acknowledging that you have a problem. In the past it’s always been seen as a sign of weakness, I think.
“I can now talk about it with anyone but it took a little bit of time to get to that stage.”
The Wilsons bought and relocated to “Yalda Downs”, a 120,000ha station about 50km north of White Cliffs about five years ago with their son, Jed, and his wife, Stacey, who have three children, Clancy, Indi and Charlie.
They felt like a change and Jed, who now manages “Yalda Downs”, always had a passion for outback station life.
“It’s completely different and we love it,” Mr Wilson said.
What they aren’t loving is the drought, which has forced them to completely destock the station.
Gone are the 9000 Merino breeding ewes and 600 cattle they had built up since taking over the station.
But Mr Wilson said the sell-off would have been much harder if generations of the family had spent many years breeding their own lines of sheep and cattle.
The Wilsons have been kept busy carrying out much-needed maintenance to fences and dams as they await drought-breaking rains.
“We are pretty comfortable with our decision (to completely destock),” Mr Wilson said.
The drought also got him thinking about how he could help those farmers feeling the pressure of trying to cope with the drought.
He contacted the mental health nurses at the Royal Flying Doctor Service at Broken Hill with an offer to share his story with farmers unwittingly suffering anxiety and depression brought on by the drought.
“I’ve done a few interviews (in the media) and talks to hopefully help someone who may be struggling,” he said.
“I was one of those typical males who thought mental health issues and depression happened to someone else.
“I encourage people who are not feeling quite normal, are down in the dumps and not quite sure what it is, to seek help to get back on track.
“It’s absolutely critical to seek help. Talk to people, get the weight off your shoulders, there are plenty of people around now who know how to help.
“During the drought, keep your eyes open, talk to people you make contact with - neighbours, friends, family, even people you don’t know.
“Ask them about their situation and how they are coping with it (drought) without being too nosey. Sometimes that’s enough to get someone to open up. A lot of people are under hell of a lot pressure now,” he said.