A Builder Learns How to Rebuild


After twenty-eight years together and two lovely daughters, one now living in London, Annie found that over time her distress levels were increasing. Annie was feeling overwhelmed, helpless, and had become mentally unwell. It took some time for husband, Ian, to realise what was happening.

“If someone falls over and breaks a leg, you know straight away they’re in trouble. But with mental illness it’s so important to encourage people to seek help when they need it.”

After becoming unwell, and with the help of Ian, Annie sought help from a range of mental health services over many years for ongoing support with her treatment and recovery. Tragically, nine years ago Annie died by suicide.

“That morning we just sat in the kitchen chatting away for ages over a coffee. At about ten, I said I had to pop down the road to finish off a building job and would be back in time for lunch,” Ian recalled. “After I left, she apparently went outside and watered the garden and chatted for a while with the neighbour. Then she got in the car and drove off. And that was that.”

Ian was crushed after his wife’s passing and in the back of his mind was a sense of blame for not doing more to help Annie. On any given day, the best Ian could hope for was a reason to get out of bed.

“It was as if the whole shape and framework of my life just collapsed with Annie’s passing. Meaning, purpose and routine ceased to exist. I found myself looking for things that would drive me forward: past the grief; past the anxiety; past the what-ifs.”

Overnight he went from being a tower of strength for his wife, to being a man with new and emotional challenges to face. That’s how quickly things can turn. Across Australia, one in five (20%) people aged 16-85 will experience a mental illness in any year. Every day, at least eight Australians die from suicide and a further thirty people will attempt to take their own life.

“In our society we’ve placed a stigma on mental illness and that’s a massive problem. Because if you won’t even acknowledge the wound, how are you going to stop the bleeding?”

For Ian, activities with the ‘get-out-of-bed factor’ were what supported him get through this difficult time. Spending more time with his daughters was high on that list as well as church and prayer. Ian dived into community connections and became the international service director for the Bowral/Mittagong Rotary club and also renewed ties with his old ski club.

He travelled overseas to take time to reconnect with himself and his brother. When he wasn’t travelling he was working as builder, cycling, meeting new people and taking part in new activities. A short while back, Ian rang up a close friend and asked him how he was getting on and the response was ‘yeah, I’m ok’.

As a result of his recent experience, Ian visited this friend and they spent the afternoon together chatting. Ian listened and supported his friend and provided advice to always seek support early. What worked for Ian came in the form of personal and community connections. A range of professional help-seeking psychological services are available in the Wingecarribee Shire and can be accessed from a GP.

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Ian’s story is a part of the Tackling the Challenge Project, a collection of local men’s stories about resilience and recovery. If you have a story to share and would like to know more, contact Brendan Bennett on Brendan.Bennett@health.nsw.gov.au or on 8738 5983. If you need support, call Lifeline: 13 11 14 or the Mental Health Line a 24-hour telephone service: 1800 011 511.