Author: Andrew Robb
Publication: Daily Telegraph
The first things I felt when I saw the news about James Packer was sadness, but also gratitude.
It’s very courageous for someone in his position to open up about his mental health and to admit to the problems that he’s dealing with publicly is an act of great courage and an act of generosity to so many.
It’s very hard for public figures to share when they’re struggling because of the consequences you imagine will come. You tend to think that your options are going to be closed off if people are aware of your condition, and you believe that the career or the things that you’re involved in may be denied to you when people know. In my case, I thought my career in politics was likely to be cut short by making a public announcement, but it was quite the opposite.
What I’ve found, at least, is that there was a great sense of relief that I didn’t have to put on a brave face and make out to people like everything was rosy 24/7. Once you do that, overwhelmingly, people are understanding and generous. They give you space, and I found people were prepared to accept that I was able to manage it and maintain my responsibilities and to hold down senior cabinet positions.
It was remarkable. I was putting in 14 and 16 hours days and was able to deal with it, so long as I had my routine. And there was such a sense of relief that you weren’t always trying to hide things from people and continually trying to have a smile on your face and seek to be engaged when that was the last thing you felt like doing.
When I was dealing with my problems and went public with it, it was remarkable how many text messages and emails I got from prominent Australians and captains of industry saying ‘welcome to the club’ or words to that effect. And it opened my eyes to the fact that no one’s immune to potentially being affected by mental health problems.
I got a lot of encouragement from the fact that so many people had a shared experience and understood what I was facing. And interestingly, the most responsibility and success I’ve had in my career has occurred after I stopped to take a break and deal with it.
It took me six months to find a way of managing it that allowed me to have a much better way of life. The first four weeks of trial and error with medication and other management tools were some of the worst weeks of my life because of side-effects, but if you can persist with that, it’s much brighter on the other side.
I expect that his revelation about his mental health issues is going to have quite a profound impact on so many Australians, especially Australian men, who, more than anyone else, have got a tendency to keep these things to themselves.
James Packer is a public figure in every sense of the word, and the thing that makes his admission so powerful is that he’s responsible for tens of thousands of jobs. The expectations are on him all the time, and that’s why it’s so powerful to see someone in his position go public. People will see this and say, well, if a man like that can have problems, notwithstanding all the things he’s done in life and all his achievements, and he can admit that he needs to do something about it, so can I.
This news will perhaps encourage lots of people to seek advice and to do something in their own worlds about something they thought was best kept a secret. It’s very brave.
Andrew Robb is a former federal MP, Minister for Trade and Investment, and the author of Black Dog Daze: Public Life, Private Demons.