Farming was always in Eddie Sloan’s blood. It’s how his father made a living and, like most kids who grew up on a farm, Eddie helped out from the time he could walk.
His family kept to themselves most of his childhood. Not necessarily by choice – their property was located 15 minutes outside a small town in Western Australia.
Eddie’s dad worked all the time. His mum would sometimes leave for days, even weeks at a time. She was staying with her sister, Eddie would be told.
It was only when Eddie was older that he learned his mother was actually going to hospital to deal with depression.
When Eddie was 17, his father was diagnosed with cancer. Less than two years later, he passed away.
Suddenly, Eddie was not only without a father but responsible for the entire property. The pressure quickly mounted. His mental health deteriorated.
Unable to grieve
While Eddie had always helped on the farm, managing it himself was another matter entirely.
He worked long hours and his only respite was to disappear up to one of the back paddocks, where he would lie beneath a tree and sleep. It was quiet there, if only for a while.
“I think I learned that coping strategy from my mother. She would hide her depression by going away, and I did the same down in the back paddock,” says Eddie.
Eddie never took the time to grieve his father. And nobody ever asked. That wasn’t how things went in the country. The focus was on the practical. Even after meeting his wife and having children, the property continued to come first.
"It took me over 12 months to even cry about Dad passing away," says Eddie.
Farming was difficult enough for Eddie when everything was going well. Throw in a drought and it became harder still. Eddie endured as best he could. But when a recession hit, he began to consider the unthinkable. Selling the farm.
In the end, that was the only option. And as much as he knew he had to do it, Eddie felt sick.
"I promised Dad I would stay and look after mum on the farm... I didn't do that and, in my mind, that was a failure. And I started to really hate myself. I just thought I'd failed.”
After selling the farm, Eddie stayed living locally, working on a neighbouring farm.
He started to feel low all the time. He stopped socialising. His thoughts became dark. He began having moments when he considered taking his own life.
Asking for help
The first conversation Eddie ever had about his mental health was with a friend who said they’d noticed the changes. They advised him to him to see a doctor.
At 33 years old, Eddie drove 150 kilometres to see a GP. Out of town, away from people that knew him, Eddie let it all out.
“I told him what I was experiencing – the anger, fatigue, numbness, withdrawing from important aspects of my life, that at times I felt that I was looking down a black tunnel with no way out.”
The doctor listened and eventually made a diagnosis – depression. It didn’t come as a great shock for Eddie. In fact, it was more of a relief. At least he knew what he was dealing with.
The doctor also prescribed medication. Eddie agreed, but he was also worried about the potential side effects. So he didn’t take them all the time.
Depression takes hold
Several years after he was diagnosed, Eddie moved his wife and children across the country to Kingaroy, a town in Queensland. He liked it there but the transition wasn’t easy. He had been a farmer for so long, and now he was working inside all day.
Eddie felt like he had lost his identity.
"I started repeating the same mistakes. Not taking the medication properly. Then going back to the doctor and saying it didn’t work properly.”
Eddie also started to isolate himself again.
"I was at the lowest I'd ever been. I had pretty much given up on myself and life,” he says.
It reached the point that his wife felt compelled to call an ambulance, which took him to the acute mental health ward at Toowoomba Hospital. It was only meant to be a short stay but Eddie wound up there for several weeks. They adjusted his medication and sent him home.
Barely a year later, his mental health deteriorated again. He thought about his family and how he needed to get better for them. He became determined to try anything.
Eddie admitted himself back into hospital voluntarily.
Taking steps to get well
It didn’t happen straight away, but slowly, Eddie began to mend. He underwent different styles of therapy, took his medication consistently and starting regularly seeing a psychologist
His wife continued to support him and he cut no corners when it came to working on his day-to-day wellbeing. He cut back on caffeine, started taking his diet more seriously and prioritised exercise.
There were still times when the dark feelings returned. But Eddie was better equipped to handle them.
Reflections on mental health journey
Sometimes, Eddie reflects on his lowest point, like the day he nearly walked away from his family. He thinks of all the things in his life that he has done since, moments he would have missed out on.
“I wouldn't have met my grandkids. I wouldn't have renewed my wedding vows. I wouldn’t have walked my daughter down the aisle,” he says.
He still thinks about his dad too. And how his passing had such an impact on Eddie.
“Grief is something that we all experience in life where we just need to be taught the skills to get through it. Because if you don't do something about it, it can come back and bite you down the track."
These days, one of Eddie’s main coping strategies is going camping on his own.
But unlike his trips to the back paddock, this alone time isn’t to escape – it’s to recharge. So he can spend more time with his family, rather than avoiding them.
Photography and video produced by Good Grief productions.