Ross Read has suffered with mental illness for much of his working life — but for a long time, he did not realise it.
Mr Read grew up on a Toolamba West family dairy farm, which he took over with his brother in the 1980s, and spent the next 23 years in partnership with him.
The cumulative effect of tough seasons, financial challenges, industry changes, rationalisation and collapses took a toll on him.
Like so many farmers, the millennium drought was the last straw. Mr Read said the loss of control caused by drought and subsequent floods pulled the trigger on his mental health issues.
“For most farmers, you’re not aware of the pressures you’re under — certainly the drought took a toll,” he said.
“I always thought how I dealt with things was normal, and I withdrew, and in most agriculture industries you’re your own boss — so that's easier to do.
“It got to a point when my mental illness was taking over and it was affecting my marriage and my farm.”
That is when Mr Read decided to visit his local GP, who then referred him to the psychologist he has been seeing for the past 12 years.
“Having someone to talk through what’s going on in your head was a good thing, and I've been able to get help to understand where the negative voices come from and how to problem solve it,” he said.
He also used his farm as a way to reconnect with the land and regain control of his surroundings.
“I can now use the farm as a means of de-escalating my anxiety — it’s about managing my environment.”
Mr Read said the most important thing was to discuss how to manage mental illness.
“Men aren’t that great at getting in touch with how they are feeling, which is why talking to a professional is important.
“I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without seeking professional help.
“For farmers, you see nutritionists and agronomists and all sorts of experts helping look after the farm; so that’s why I think mental practitioners are in the same boat — except they are looking after me so I can look after myself and the farm.”
Mr Read has worked as a Murray Dairy extension officer for the past five years and said having support from colleagues was essential.
“Mental illness is not something that you can fix, it’s not a cold — it is something that is with you for life so it is essential to learn how to take control of it.
“Even working at Murray Dairy, when I feel I’m losing control I can do some activities to help put everything back in balance.”
Mr Read now takes part in an ambassador speaker program, the next step in his recovery journey.
“I'm hoping that being able to articulate my story will encourage at least one person to be able to seek help a little bit quicker than I did — I was 38 when I sought help.”
He now lives next to the farm where he was raised and hopes his own children will grow up with better support services than he had as a child.
If you need support, or know someone who does, call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800, Lifeline on 131 114, the suicide callback service on 1300 659 467 or visit: ReachOut.com or www.beyondblue.org.au/