Cole, Neil Donald - People don't get diagnosed early enough
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
from A Change in mind - By Ian Munro
October 17, 2009
I could not do what I am doing with people with mental illness without the parliamentary pension,'' he says. ''That was a choice I made. It's a tough choice. I worry sometimes I am not as financially sound as I should be. It comes at a price, financially and emotionally.
''But I was not going to come out [of parliament] and become a lobbyist. I don't see the point in helping out Tattersalls. They have got enough going for them without people like me getting on board.''
And besides, in a roundabout way he is now doing exactly the work he would always have wanted to, but with the added benefit of his public profile and personal pension. ''Mostly now I see one or two people a day with mental illness, be it bipolar or schizophrenia, and their parents, talking to carers,'' he says.
''I was particularly disturbed that the first time I saw a doctor I was 16, and the first time I was diagnosed with a serious, intractable illness was when I was 35.
''I think of all the pain and suffering I had been through - and it was substantial up to that point, and that's not to say it has not continued since.
''People don't get diagnosed early enough. There's a lot of shame attached to the illness. I don't know why that is. People don't understand the nature of the illness, or why it does what it does, and they don't understand either the internal suffering that's involved.''
The delay in reaching diagnosis is critical, he says, since more than one in 10 sufferers commit suicide.
Cole says his illness is not strictly under control, but life is good. ''There's always problems with sleep, talking too much: loquaciousness would be my biggest problem and it's why I am terrible in politics. In politics you've got to keep your own counsel and not tell anyone what you're doing.
''I have moments of depression, but not a lot. I live in fear of depression. It's the worry I have. It occurs in a vacuum and by and large I have been able to stop it. The major problems are sleep difficulties caused by the drugs.''
Often he is counselling newly diagnosed bipolar sufferers or their families. What he has to offer them is a firsthand account, the lived experience of mental illness. ''I say: 'If I can live a normal life, anybody can'.'' he says.
The one thing he still finds difficult is seeing parents who have lost children through suicide. ''That's really knocked me for six … I have tried not to do that because I am pretty gutless. I would never refuse anybody, but it's so gut-wrenching.
''What I have discovered is you can't be philosophical about the death of a child. There is nothing to say. You have to just offer something that resembles support.
''It's a very important thing that I do. It's very demanding. It's something I do because I can't get out of it, and every time I think I won't do it, I remember what it was like for me.''
Neil Donald Cole CV
BORN May 25, 1957, Millicent, SA.
1980 Graduates from Melbourne University Law School and forms Flemington Community Legal Service.
1988 Elected to the Victorian Parliament. 1993 Diagnosed as manic depressive.
1995 Speaks openly of his battle with mental illness.
1996 First play, Alive at Williamstown Pier, is produced.
1999 Loses ALP preselection, begins work with Mental Health Research Institute and wins Griffin Theatre award for the best new writing for theatre.
2001 Short listed Premier's Literary Award.
2006 Becomes associate professor, Monash Medical School.
PERSONAL Single, with two sons Eamon, 19, and Declan, 17.