Barnaby Joyce defends timing of his mental health reveal

BATTLE: While the timing has been questioned, Barnaby Joyce says he chose to reveal his mental health battle to help others. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
BATTLE: While the timing has been questioned, Barnaby Joyce says he chose to reveal his mental health battle to help others. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

ONE of the region’s leading mental health advocates was shocked to hear of Barnaby Joyce’s mental health admissions in his new autobiography, and has accused him of a “publicity stunt” after the New England MP “repeatedly ignored” her attempts to discuss the issue that affects so many of his constituents.

However, Mr Joyce says he was encouraged by those who supported him to share his story, in a bid to help others fighting the black dog.

Mr Joyce revealed that as his marriage broken down, he contemplated taking his own life and later sought help from a psychiatrist, who diagnosed him with depression.

MindMatters Tamworth founder Helen Mary Jones, says while she’s glad Mr Joyce has sought help for his depression, she hopes the embattled politician isn’t “playing the mental health card” and “making light of a serious issue”.

During the New England by-election campaign, Ms Jones said she was ignored on three occasions as she sought to raise the issue of regional mental health with Mr Joyce.

Ms Jones said other members of MindMatters had suffered the same fate when they sought the support of the Member for New England.

Ms Jones said the MP had demonstrated a “consistent disregard and disrespect” for mental health issues. In 2016, she tried several times to get Mr Joyce’s backing for a mental health forum, however was unsuccessful.

It wasn’t until she wrote an open letter addressed to Mr Joyce in The Leader that she finally got a reply, apologising for not being available and pledging his support for mental health issues, however he offered no commitment or support for the forum.

“If he did have mental health issues, I sympathise with him, because of my own struggles with depression and losing my brother to suicide,” Ms Jones said.

“But I honestly believe it’s a publicity stunt and a low one at that. Why didn’t he say he was struggling with depression in his TV interview?”

The Leader put that question to Mr Joyce, who responded: “Why is one time better than any other time?”

“This is something that I’ve been working on for a long time – in my book, I mention about how I bought a book on [mental health] four or five years ago,” he said.

“It’s pertinent now more so than ever because the drought is on.

“If what I have said helps one person to get help, so they don't hurt themselves or do harm to those around them, then that's a good thing.

“And if that means Ms Jones is angry with me, I’ll wear that.”

Mr Joyce said he’d always had a “deep appreciation” for mental health, and encouraged others battling mental illness, particularly the state’s drought-stricken farmers, to seek help.

“I understand how difficult it is to get help – you think it makes you weak in front of your peers,” Mr Joyce said.

“I can tell you this: getting help really does make it vastly better. And if you don’t get help, it is going to get worse.”

*Lifeline: 13 11 14