John McGrath's story

We're probably fairly traditional country family. My wife and I have five children, two boys and three girls, the boys being the eldest, and it was a very happy family group. But I would say this about Shane. Right from the time he could first smile, he had a real glint in his eye, like a little bit of devilment or a little bit of personality.

He talked to us about Shane, and how this straight-A student was starting to battle a bit in class, and that he was pretty worried that he wasn't gonna make it. So, that was the first sign that something wasn't quite right. By the end of that year, he had failed his HSC as it was on those days, VCE today. He had failed it dismally. He didn't just fail, he failed it dismally. And so, he didn't wanna go back to school. We tried to get him to go back and sit again, and he didn't want to do that. And it was then that we started to notice that he was having a bit of a job with continuity, in terms of concentration, and putting his mind to a task and completing it.

He had a lot of skills. But what he didn't have was, he didn't have the ability to concentrate and to endure. And so, he would get a job, but his concentration would wane, and he would therefore start to slip and fail at the job. And if he didn't get sacked, he'd walk out. That became a very dark part of his life as well. So, it was a very difficult time, and it was very much part of the roller-coaster that was starting to unfold. His behaviour at that time, where he would lock himself away, and just feel so sad and so unloved and unwanted even in a family that loved him, showed clear signs of depression, where he'd be sleep-deprived, and where he wouldn't eat. It was all of the classic symptoms, when you look back on them, as depression. But his initial diagnosis was schizophrenia, and then later on, severe depression.

We didn't know what way that would play out in Shane's life. What did it mean? What were the opportunities that may or may not exist for him given this diagnosis? That created a dynamic where information was very hard to find. Solid information was very hard to find. To be able to traffic through the network and services was impossible. And as a family, we just seemed to roll from one crisis to another. So, he'd be in hospital, he'd come home, and his style of living at that time was not conducive to a household of two adults and five children. It just didn't work, and so that created enormous problems.

It become fairly evident that Shane was gonna struggle to make his own way in life. That he was... To be a completely independent free spirit was gonna be probably not realistic. And if that was the case, then, who was gonna pick up the responsibility. Well, his parents and his family were obviously the ones who were gonna pick up that responsibility.

I think the more we talked about it, the better it got. I think people started to see that we were not ashamed of what was happening to Shane. That it was a fact of life. That this thing called mental illness was in fact a legitimate illness. So even though in the past, he'd been treated in a very different way, they built red brick buildings, they put them on a hill outside of the town, not in the town, so they isolated the people. So, we've got this dreadful legacy and this dreadful stigma that we've got to try and deal with. But I think the more you talk about it, the better that became. And, yes, we did have a bit of a battle with some people. But our family and friends, we talked about it openly with them. We never concealed anything, whether it was in their home or in our home, or whether it was over a barbie or wherever it was. We talked about the challenges that Shane faced, and how he was dealing with them, and many times, how they played out, what his behaviour was as a consequence of that.

The more you did that, the more you normalise it, if that's the right word. People see it as, "This is somebody that's got a challenge in life, and this is how they deal with it." That was sort of our approach. And Shane, to his great credit, supported that approach as well. I mean he never hid from it. He knew that he... Something had hold of him that was bigger than him, and he would have loved to have found something to help him get over it. Never happened, unfortunately.

The shock that we as a family suffered with Shane's death, even, as I've said, we sort of anticipated something would happen. It was just soul destroying. And it's just the worst possible thing that could ever have happen to any individual or particularly any family. It's just, it's soul destroying.

Immediately, after Shane's death, the community rallied and came to our home, showed their support. In those intervening days immediately after his death, and then after the funeral, they still continued to support, in an understanding way. Bearing in mind that this is now 16 years ago, I think it was an outstanding response given the sort of knowledge that was available then versus the knowledge that's available now. But I mean Shane's story is tragic. After many years of treatment and not getting the right medication, he unfortunately lost his life.

But Shane's elder brother, Darren, about three years after Shane was first diagnosed, Darren was diagnosed as well. So, he went through a range of challenges, a little bit similar to Shane in lots of ways. But eventually, Darren was put on to a medication that's readily available today, much after Shane had died. That has just been an outstanding result for Darren.

He is back living independently. He works as a private in-home carer to intellectually disabled young adults, a very challenging profession, and does it very well, and loves the work, and got his own car, and leads his own individual life, has a great social network. And it's just a good news story. So, we've got both sides in the McGrath family. We've got the sad story of Shane, but we've got the great story of hope from Darren. That given the right medication, given the right sort of treatments, given the right sort of family supports and encouragement, and particularly community support, great result.

Since Beyond Blue has come onboard, there has been an enormous change in the way people view depression and anxiety and mental illness generally in the community. An enormous change to the point where people no longer cringe, people no longer want to sweep it under the carpet. People wanna talk about it, and people say to you, "That badge in your car, isn't that Beyond Blue? My brother got helped through Beyond Blue or my aunty got helped through Beyond Blue". This is over a counter in a shop. Would never have happened 10 years ago, 15 years ago. So, we are progressing.

And there are several reasons we could go into for that, but by and large, Beyond Blue has normalised discussion about depression and anxiety and as a consequence, mental illness generally so that people feel comfortable. That's an enormous advancement, enormous advancement, and what that does, of course, is it provides a segue for people who experience these conditions to actually not feel threatened, but in fact feel like, "I think I'll reach out for help". And that is just so important.