Ric Raftis remembers getting to work in the morning, walking into his office and closing the door. He sat there too afraid to answer the phone. He was worried that a client would ring saying he didn’t need his services. This was followed by feelings of hopelessness and nausea. He then went home, went to sleep, got up at 1pm and then repeated the same process the next day. It went on for about 3 months. Finally he was forced to take action. “I’d never been to the doctor, I didn’t even have a doctor, but it just got to the point where I didn’t have a choice. I just had to go and find out what was wrong. You can only avoid the inevitable for so long,” he said. The young locum who saw him diagnosed him with severe depression and anxiety and said he would be off work for the next six months. It was both a shock and a relief for Raftis. “I had to come to grips with being diagnosed with a mental illness, which I previously thought was a weakness,” he said. That was almost 20 years ago.
His depressive and elevated mood episodes continued. It wasn’t until a few years after his first visit to the doctor that he was finally diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. It is a condition that takes him from complete depths of depression to extreme elevated moods. “Bi-polar is a chronic illness, once you’ve been diagnosed with it; it is never going to go away. It just has to be managed effectively. I take my meds everyday and I will for the rest of my life,” he said. He has come to realise there is no difference to physical illness and mental illness and the in discriminatory nature of it means that anyone can get struck down by it at any time. “I’ve resigned myself that having bipolar is no different to having diabetes, you’ve been dealt the blow and you just have to wear it,” he said. Part of his coping is his involvement with Black Dog Ride. The organisation was started six years ago by Steve Andrews who rode around Australia on his motorbike to raise awareness about depression and suicide prevention, after losing his own mother to suicide. Raftis joined four years ago with a ride from Victoria to Uluru and has been riding with the organisation ever since spreading the message and starting conversations.
“Suicide is one of the largest killers in society, we want to talk to people,” he said. Apart from creating awareness the group also deliver mental health first aid training. The course introduces people to the various mental health conditions including depression, psychosis, substance abuse, schizophrenia and suicidal tendencies and teaches them how to not only recognise symptoms but to intervene. At the cornerstone of intervention is obtaining professional help. “The job of the first aid instructor is to get someone professional help, not to diagnose or intervene directly themselves. It is no different to physical first aid,” Raftis stressed. Raftis who is an accredited mental health first aid instructor will be delivering training at the Wedderburn Community House on the 10th and 17th of March. It is open to the public.
This article first appeared ABC, 12 February 2015.