Mark Gable, lead singer/songwriter with legendary rock band Choirboys has maintained an enviable career in the cut-throat Australian music industry since the 1970s.
Most Aussies would know him best for the 1987 hit song Run to Paradise – which is still a Friday night favourite in pubs across the country.
He has experienced two bouts of depression during his career and had a drinking problem which led eventually to a diagnosis of clinical depression. He believes his experience is not uncommon in the music industry, but is easy to hide under the guise of leading the stereotypical booze, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.
In 1994, Mark’s marriage ended and he says he embarked on a determined course of self-destruction. While all men react differently after divorce, he hit the bottle and began to live a 24/7 party lifestyle.
“I came out of this relationship and felt an enormous sense of release and freedom to do whatever I wanted. I felt a total lack of responsibility – I could drink, take drugs, stay up all night,” Mark said.
“I hardly drank before I was 44, but when the marriage broke up that’s when I started. I felt it was my right as a rock and roller. I had no idea the consequence would be depression.”
Four years later, in 1998, the late nights and excessive booze caught up with him and Mark decided to clean up his act.
“I broke up with my girlfriend at the time and it occurred to me that I had to get myself together. I had been starting to feel more and more depressed, and on it went until I went into total collapse. I stopped drinking alcohol and coffee and fell into a severe depression, which I tried to treat with natural remedies.
“I started to eat well, exercise and get fit, but the amount of pressure I put on myself to succeed worsened the depression. When it really hit me about two months later, it was severe. I would spend every moment by myself doubled up crying, in emotional agony.
“I was really shocked I felt this way because I had led a charmed life. I had no idea what it was and I couldn't understand why I was experiencing something that I couldn't control.
“I started seeing a psychiatrist. It was starting to get a little more in control or I was at least getting used to living with it. I didn't want to go on medication because I was terrified of it. I thought it was a sign of weakness, that it was beneath me, that if I took it I would be a failure.”
After getting regular counselling, life began to improve for Mark – who at this stage was still flying around the country to play gigs. It was smooth sailing for many years, until about seven years later, mounting personal problems with his relationships and his career took their toll.
“Eventually, I gradually started to drink again. I started to feel more and more depressed again,” he said.
“In 2005, I went on a massive bender over a long weekend. When I woke up from it, I knew I was more than hung over, that something else was wrong. I knew I couldn't drink anymore and I haven’t had a drink since.”
Three days later, Mark was on a plane to a gig in Perth, when he was struck by overwhelming sadness. He began to cry in his seat and excused himself to go to the restroom. Thoughts of suicide crossed his mind. The next morning, after the show, he hit rock bottom.
“When I woke up the next morning, I was convinced I had to kill myself because the emotional pain was so excruciating."
Instead, Mark rang the Beyond Blue info line. He had seen a high-profile Beyond Blue Ambassador on a morning chat television show a week earlier talking about his experience of depression. He realised this was what he had experienced in 1998.
The Beyond Blue info line operator took Mark through a depression checklist and recommended he see a General Practitioner, who diagnosed him with depression and prescribed antidepressants. After a short period of trial and error with medication, Mark found the right one for him.
“Without the medication I would've been dead. My recovery was a very long process. I had lots of counselling, lots of good food, fruit and vegetable juices and exercised and continued with the medication.”
Mark now keeps himself well by practising Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, going on regular walks and keeping his body free of drugs, alcohol and caffeine. He is still on medication and wants to set an example for musicians in particular because he believes mental health problems are rife in the music industry.
“You hear lots of sports stars talking about depression, but you don’t hear from many rock and rollers. I’m convinced a whole lot of people in the music industry suffer from depression, but they just don’t talk about it.
“A lot of people show behavioural attributes that are akin to depression in rock and roll – things like drinking and drugs. Alcohol definitely exacerbates depression. I remember walking home once and thinking ‘I’m feeling depressed, I’ll have a drink’ … there was escape in the alcohol because it made me feel better… it removed the problem momentarily, but the more I drank, the more it contributed to my depression coming on.
“In hindsight, the major thing I would've changed is when things didn't go well career-wise and marriage-wise, instead of starting drinking and taking drugs, I would've said ‘This is tough, let’s work through it’.
"Today, I'm happier and healthier than I've ever been and I've learnt to accept that, for me, dwelling on the past or worrying about the future can trigger my depressive episodes, so instead I try and focus on my achievements.
“I'm proud to have succeeded in the music industry for as long as I have, but admitting I was depressed, seeking treatment and overcoming it has been among my greatest achievements. It hasn't been easy, but I don't like to think what my alternative was."
Mark has hosted his own Monday to Friday radio show The Awesome Eighties on 107.7 2GO on the Central Coast of NSW, and also hosted and co-produced a weekly series for DMG Radio, The Vega Sunday Session where he interviewed many international and local artists. Mark continues to work with Choirboys, both recording and doing live shows.