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Feel better, or be better

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When work stress started to turn into something more sinister, silence and denial nearly cost Tim Lacey everything. Today, he’s passionate about helping other men to speak up and get help when needed.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

TRIGGER WARNING: This article involves discussion on mental health and depression. It may be difficult reading this story, especially if you’ve had similar experiences or supported a friend or family member. If you’re feeling impacted, contact Beyond Blue for immediate support, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Headspace, or your local GP for support.

Tim Lacey has lived with depression for more than 20 years. But rather than considering it a weakness, he calls it his ‘superhero status’ – something he can use in a powerful and practical way to help other people who find themselves battling the mental health demons.

‘If I can help just one person, all this is worthwhile for me,’ he says. ‘It's a passion to talk to guys and make sure they're OK and do whatever I can to help.’ He volunteers his time as a Beyond Blue speaker, hoping that opening up about his own vulnerabilities and bumpy road through mental health will encourage other men to get the help they need, before it’s too late. 

‘Depression is not just a low mood – it's actually a serious illness,’ he says. ‘The common misconception is that we can snap out of it. That's not necessarily the case.’ As a husband and father of two, Tim is also aware that depression isn’t only about the individual. It’s bigger than that; it creates a ripple effect, impacting the lives of family members and even friends. 

Tim’s story highlights the fact that mental ill-health can happen to anybody. ‘It doesn't discriminate between people in any way. It doesn't matter how old or young, it doesn't matter the size of your bank balance or the lack of it,’ he says. 

His childhood was a happy one – he grew up in the Dandenong region, outside Melbourne. It was a rural area at the time and Tim and his five brothers enjoyed all the freedoms that go along with that. ‘We could do anything we wanted,’ he says.

Tim’s story highlights the fact that mental ill-health can happen to anybody.
Tim still considers his mental health as a work in progress.

‘We grew up with the old saying, “work hard”. And to a lesser extent, “she'll be right, mate”. And I think a lot of people can identify with that.’ 

Although he didn’t particularly enjoy school, Tim has always been a curious and enthusiastic learner with a keen entrepreneurial spirit. He left school at 15, and, once out in the workforce, ‘if there was an opportunity, I would tend to try and take it’. In the early days of his career, he gave many things a go: he drove buses and trucks, worked on orchards, in retail electrical sales and a wholesale bakery. ‘Then I got into the building industry and haven't looked back since.’ 

By the time he was in his thirties, Tim was married with two young daughters, managing a couple of businesses. On the outside, life looked perfect. But it was around this time he ‘started to get the first signs that something wasn't quite right’: becoming withdrawn, avoiding responsibilities, feeling unwell and experiencing chest pains. A trip to the doctor confirmed he was ‘stressed’. ‘He said, “You need to take some time and really work out these things”. So I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah”. And kept going, which was the worst thing I could do.’

Unsurprisingly, things got worse and his performance at work nosedived. He was making mistakes, not making decisions, not leading his team. ‘I had 15 people under me, and it was a difficult time.’ Eventually, he lost his job. 

‘I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. I was angry and it wasn’t a nice time of my life because I was hurting my wife and my kids. Other people who were close to me were feeling it as well.’ He avoided socialising and became a recluse. 

Still, he resisted getting help. ‘I thought, well, if I do something about it, I'm going to be seen as a weak guy. People are going to laugh at me. Or worse, maybe I'll be institutionalised or drugged out of my mind on antidepressants. That was my thinking back then. I know differently now.’ 

Today, Tim realises that this reluctance to reach out for help is a common issue among men; they don’t want to show any vulnerability. ‘As guys, it's very difficult to open up about how we feel. There’s a stigma attached to it.’ This is why a huge part of his message is that it’s OK to put your hand up and ask for help; that ‘it's okay if you’re not okay’. 

He likens his lowest point to being in ‘a chasm that was just so dark and deep, I didn't know a way out. During that time, I lost hope to the point of where I thought, well, there’s not much worth going on with life, and was beginning to start thinking about making some choices in that area.’

His wife rescued him in the end with a desperate offer to take him to the GP. ‘I was in such a  state that I just said, “OK, I’ll do it”. And it was the best decision I ever made.’ Tim was diagnosed with clinical depression and prescribed the appropriate medication. ‘I began feeling a bit better after a few months of that.’ 

Thus began the long, arduous journey towards recovery. ‘I kept going back to the doctor. I started to open up for the first time in my life about what was going on – what I felt and what I was thinking, and all these things I'd buried deep for years. 

‘It was difficult at first. I'm not going to sugarcoat it. It's not easy coming out of something like that.’ 

A pivotal shift happened when Tim asked himself: ‘Do you want to feel better? Or do you want to be better?’ Choosing to be better –not going back to being the person he was before – became a powerful motivator. ‘The opportunity was there and I just needed to grasp it. The doctor helped me out. I went and saw some counsellors, I went and saw psychologists, and then little by little, the hope started coming back that maybe I could be better.’

Tim realises that this reluctance to reach out for help is a common issue among men.
Tim’s mission to help others has become a key part of his own recovery.

That was 10 years ago, and Tim still considers his mental health as a work in progress. ‘It was two steps forward, one step back. But little by little I kept persisting because I didn't want to feel how I was before. I'm still on that journey.’

He’s learnt to take better care of himself and to be more resilient. He deals with things rather than avoiding them. ‘If I've got a problem, I define it, then do something small about it, whatever that might be.’ He also does regular personal checks-ins: ‘How are you going? How are you feeling? Are you happy about this? Are you sad about this? And just be honest, open with myself and curious about where I'm at and how I can be better.’ 

Tim’s mission to help others has become a key part of his own recovery. ‘Everything I do now in the mental health space is for me or for others. I'm super grateful for a lot of people who helped me along the pathway. I need to give back.’ 

So, this is Tim’s mental health tip: clearing that first hurdle and reaching out for help can be hard. But remaining silent will always be harder. 

‘It wasn't easy to go to the doctors for the first time’ he says. ‘It wasn't easy to allow him to give me some medication to help out. It wasn’t easy to go to psychologists. It wasn’t easy to keep going and keep battling through it. It isn’t easy to talk about this today, but it’s worthwhile. 

‘If you’re struggling with anything like this, don't hesitate to reach out to an organisation such as Beyond Blue. Don’t hesitate to put up your hand and say, “Hey, I'm not OK”. There is hope and there is help out there.’

The HIA Charitable Foundation proudly supports Beyond Blue. The HIACF are committed to the wellbeing of members of the residential construction industry. For more information or to make a donation.

Published on 6 February 2024

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