John Brogden to speak on mental illness

Published 5 October 2007

John Brogden thought he was on top of the world. At just 33 years of age he was the youngest person ever to be the NSW Opposition Leader and was a likely contender for the Premier’s job.

That world, however, came crashing down after his resignation and a highly publicised suicide attempt.

More than two years on, John is sharing his experiences as a guest speaker at Southern Cross University in the hope it will raise awareness of mental health and perhaps help other people recognise symptoms before it’s too late.

John, the chief executive officer of Manchester Unity and the patron of Lifeline NSW, will be speaking at the University’s Coffs Harbour campus on Thursday, October 11. The seminar is part of Mental Health Week and the University’s Challenging Ideas Speaker series.

“I would have been the last one to recognise I had depression. The only person who really recognised it was my wife. I was on top of the world and my life was very much on track,” John said.

“You put on a suit and tie and do all those political things and it becomes a mask. The frenetic and sometimes out-of-control pace in politics, allowed me to ignore the depression.”

Now, while he still finds it difficult to talk about his own experiences, he is passionate about changing people’s attitudes to an illness that will strike almost 17 percent of all Australian men at some point in their life.

“Mental illness has no bounds – it doesn’t discriminate. The hard thing that many people find is acknowledging they have depression and asking for help,” John said.

“For me it wasn’t so much admitting it, but understanding it. If I had cancer I could explain it and understand the physical nature of it. But depression is very hard to describe and that makes the challenge of educating people much harder.

“If you break a leg, people can see it. How do you have the mental equivalent of a plaster cast?

“Les Murray, the great Australian poet, describes depression as ‘that black cabbage in my mind’ and I think that’s about right.”

One of the warning signs, which John didn’t recognise at the time, was when the things that had always brought great enjoyment, no longer did.

John said the only difference between his collapse and that suffered by so many people was that his was so highly publicised.

“That made it 10 times worse. But the one significant benefit of such a public downfall was the enormous public support. I received thousands of letters, gifts and messages of support. The level of support was breathtaking,” he said.

He has also had the unerring support of his wife, Lucy.

“I don’t know that you ever completely recover. It’s like diabetes – you don’t ever get rid of it, but you can learn to live with it,” John said.

“I have regular counselling, take medication and I’m very aware of trigger points. One of the great challenges is that Australian men are terrible when it comes to medication. They say they don’t need it. That’s just bloody stupid.”

John said the other great challenge for our society was changing the way people react to mental illness.

“When somebody gets cancer they don’t feel as if they have failed. But many people with depression feel that it is an admission of failure. It isn’t.”

John will be the guest speaker at Southern Cross University’s Coffs Harbour campus on Thursday, October 11, from 5.30pm to 6.30pm in the D Block lecture theatre. The cost is $15.

The event will also include the launch of Southern Cross University’s Rural Mental Health Scholarship program. The program will provide scholarships worth $5000 a year to selected students in the four-year Bachelor of Psychology (Honours) degree at the Coffs Harbour campus.

Bookings for the seminar can be made by contacting Karen Howes on 66203354 or email

Photo: John Brogden will speak on mental health issues next Thursday, October 11, at the Coffs Harbour campus of Southern Cross University.

Media contact: Zoe Satherley Southern Cross University media officer 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.