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Gallop’s depression confession hailed

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West Australian Premier Geoff Gallop’s decision to go public with his depression marks a step forward in the destigmatisation of mental illness in Australia, a leading psychiatrist says.

Gordon Parker, of Sydney’s Black Dog Institute, predicted Dr Gallop’s confession would assist other people, particularly men, in seeking help for their own mental health problems.”It’s a marker of how destigmatisation is proceeding in this country for a politician to be able to openly use the word depression as a reason for stepping down,” Professor Parker said in an interview.”I think that’s really quite noteworthy because it wouldn’t have happened five years ago.”I think it will be admired and respected.”Dr Gallop announced on Monday he would resign after five years as premier and leave the WA parliament on the advice of his doctors.”Living with depression is a very debilitating experience, which affects different people in different ways,” he said.”It has certainly affected many aspects of my life. So much so, that I sought expert help last week.”Prof Parker said Dr Gallop’s diagnosis was a reminder that “the black dog” did not respect rank or position.”It can affect anybody at any time,” he said.Depression certainly has not spared Australia’s politicians.Labor Senator Nick Sherry tried to commit suicide during a severe bout of depression in 1997, ALP backbencher Greg Wilton took his own life in 2000 after a marriage split and last year, former NSW Opposition leader John Brogden attempted suicide.Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett, who chairs the national depression initiative beyondblue, said Dr Gallop’s admission may be his “greatest act of public service”.”It is an illness, not a weakness, to suffer depression, and in him being so honest he gives hope to the other hundreds of thousands Australians, particularly men, who are suffering depression every year,” he said.Australian Psychological Society president Amanda Gordon said Dr Gallop’s honesty highlighted the importance of people from all walks of life to talk about mental illness in the same way as a broken leg or diabetes.”Often men are determined that even close family members should not know how hopeless they feel. Psychologists can hear and understand those feelings, and support men in their struggle to recover their normal functioning”, Gordon said. Psychologists operate according to a strict Code of Ethics, which ensures that anyone who consults them, for whatever problem, is assured of complete confidentiality. Psychologists are skilled in assessing people’s mental state, and then devising specific interventions to address the underlying issues. This can convert helplessness into hopefulness, as men recognize that negative feelings can be controlled and that they can take increasing charge of their responses to those feelings, and begin to live life again. The Australian Psychological Society urges Government to provide funding for depressed people to consult psychologists directly for assistance. Currently the only psychology consultations receiving funding under Medicare are for those with a complex chronic illness, and then only after referral by a general practitioner. Even those with longterm depression often prefer not to talk to their family doctor about anything they perceive as weakness, and may only reveal physical aches and pains, not revealing the extent of their distress. Psychologists are skilled at freeing people to talk about feelings and thoughts, and to recognize when physical symptoms may indicate emotional distress.Being encouraged to go directly to a psychologist to deal with emotional issues, will enhance men’s perception of their own worth and ability to make change. They need to be able to consult a psychologist without delay if we are to protect against the risk of suicide.(Source: Australian Psychological Society: The Age: January 2006.)

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Posted On: 30 January, 2006
Modified On: 16 January, 2014

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