Former elite athlete: How I masked my issues with alcohol
FOR TEN years, Sam Dibble self-medicated with alcohol and drugs as a way to numb his depression and anxiety before finally reaching out for help.
The 28-year-old has shared his story with News in the hopes of encouraging other southwest Queenslanders to seek help if they are battling mental health issues.
Bred in Roma, Sam was an aspiring 18-year-old athlete when he moved to Toowoomba in 2009 to pursue a career in rugby league - he had a clear path in mind of where his life would go.
"I was playing football at a high level, making first grade and playing rep sides," he said.
"I was looking at playing NRL and then I injured my knee.
"It was a critical point where I was training five days a week, I was fit and healthy and I didn't drink."
Sam's sporting dreams were dashed and he turned to alcohol as a "way out" of dealing with trauma.
"It got pretty bad, I was drinking all the time, using recreational drugs, which wasn't me," he said
"I had always been strict about drugs and alcohol, but I was using it to numb out the depression and anxiety."
According to Beyondblue, one in eight Australian men will experience depression in their lifetime, and one in five will experience an anxiety condition.
The Australian Institute of Health and Wellness found that levels of psychological distress are higher among people who drink more than four standard drinks per day.
The diagnosis for a mental health condition was about 1.2-1.3 times higher among drinking at risky levels than those drinking at low-risk, or abstaining from alcohol.
Two years later at age 20, tragedy struck when Sam lost his uncle to cancer, he recalls becoming completely dependent on using alcohol to mask his pain.
"I still suffered through depression when my uncle passed away when he was 31, five years after he was diagnosed," Sam said.
"He was like a father figure to me, and it was difficult to lose him - that's when the depression and anxiety really ramped up.
"My 20s were pretty much a blur - my drinking was ridiculous, I really was drinking to hurt myself.
"I've just gone through life medicating myself, but I knew I needed to change that."
But he broke free from the vicious cycle of alcohol earlier this year when he reached out to mate Lachie Stewart, who runs the Man That Can project.
"I've read so many books about meditation and mindfulness," Sam said.
"It's getting to the point now where I can be mindful enough to know when I'm feeling depressed or anxious, and I've quit drinking."
Despite lacking confidence in the availability of mental health services in the southwest, the 28-year-old encouraged anyone dealing with depression and anxiety to seek professional help.
"I think there's not a lot of awareness as a community about mental health in general, especially out here," Sam said.
"The tough mentality is really toxic - you have to screen everything, and put on a tough front.
"But to man up is to open up. If I could go back, I'd tell myself to talk - to speak out."
THROUGHOUT the past five years more people are seeking help for mental health issues in southwest Queensland.
Despite the ongoing battle with driving awareness of the available mental health services across an area larger than Tasmania, South West Hospital and Health Service's Director of Mental Health Christine McDougall said the number of people getting professional help for depression and anxiety is steadily rising.
In 2015, 666 people across the south west accessed mental health services through SWHHS. In 2016, there was a 10.6 per cent increase to 726 referrals. In 2017, 856 were referred, up 18.8 per cent. Last year, a total of 914 people were referred to the service.
"The stories that we hear everyday are enough to make you cry most days," Ms McDougall said.
"But we do what we can to help them.
"We might not always be the right place, but all they have to do is ring us up and we'll find them the right place."
With two mental health clinicians based in Charleville, a clinical consultant in Cunnamulla, three mental health clinicians in Roma and two in St George, the team services a population of 25,000 over 310,000 square kilometres.
"We do outreaches to smaller towns out of our hubs," she said.
"Pete, n Cunnamulla, will go out to Thargomindah, and he just makes his presence known. Sometimes that's all people need.
"We're not always the right place, but all they have to do is ring up and we'll find it. "There is always help there."
ON THE GROUND
A TEAM of volunteers sit in the Care Balonne building on a quiet street in St George preparing 'suicide kits' ready to hand out to tragedy-stricken families in their 2300-person town.
Their community is in crisis mode as it reels from a significant spike in suicides in 2019.
Manager of Care Balonne, Robyn Fuhrmeister, has dedicated her time to suicide prevention by setting up a dedicated committee.
"We have put together a small kit of tools that can be handed out to people," she said.
"Whether or not it's the police that pull someone over and see someone is stressed, or the ambulance or even a doctor surgery.
"We've done a kit as well, so if there is a suicide in the family, they can drop that around.
"All these services that we have around town are great, but once everybody goes home some people feel they're left completely isolated."
According to South West Hospital and Health Services' Gavin Johannesen, regional adversity co-ordinator, it is estimated up to 80 people are directly affected by a suicide
"Ultimately, there is a serious flow on effect and especially to the family. These people might take their pain away but all they're doing is transferring it to a family member and they do feel it," Ms Fuhrmeister said. She said the kits was needed now more than ever.
"The services are there, we just need to create that awareness of who to ring if you are feeling a bit down," she said.
FOR A long time, Sam felt he had no plans for the rest of his life, but his journey with mental health has inspired him to reach out to others.
"My real dream is to influence young Aboriginal kids and men to be able to speak out about their feelings."
DO YOU NEED HELP?
Lifeline 13 11 14
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636
Queensland Health mental health call 1300 642 255
Alcohol & Drugs Information 1800 177 833
Kids Help Line 1800 551 800
Mens Info Line 1800 600 636
Parentline 1300 301 300
Health Line 13 432 584
Charleville Mental Health Service 4650 5000
Roma Mental Health Service 4624 2977
St George Mental Health Service 4620 2265
South West Health Service District acute care team after hours 4616 5210
WANT TO SHARE YOUR STORY?
If you have a story to share about your experience with mental health, and how you accessed mental health services in regional Queensland, please contact Ellen Ransley on 4578 4104.