What doesn’t meet the eye, rests between
the ears

By Hugh Dawson

If it doesn’t seem right, chances are it isn’t. As a civilisation, we’re currently living through the largest disruption to humankind since the Second World War. Most of our nation has been locked down within the confides of four walls and we have been stripped of the freedom we so
cherish as Australians.

In remote Australia, we have been lucky. For those of us involved in primary industries, we have been able to work and strong commodity prices are being enjoyed right across the agricultural sector and in rural communities that hinge on the prosperity of our producers.

So, it’s the good, the bad and the ugly… It’s an undeniably good time to be in the bush but probably not the greatest time to be a café on Smith Street. Both scenarios, though stark in contrast, share a fundamental similarity; neither are free from challenges.

It’s funny, when I think of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, I think of The Ecstasy of Gold by Ennio Morricone. For those unfamiliar with the piece, The Ecstasy of Gold is a rousing instrumental arrangement which inspires courage to take on ANY ‘challenge’. Morricone’s goosebump-inducing ensemble was the last thing I would listen to as part of any preparation for a sporting match or similar event, to get me ‘in the zone’. So maybe this could be the answer to all our challenges; if we just listen to The Ecstasy of Gold, we’ll be able to get in the right frame
of mind and overcome whatever is thrown our way?

I think not… I think it is time we adopt a more holistic approach to EVERYTHING. Even Isaac Newton stated, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” and I believe the same goes for life. I think it’s fantastic we have increased awareness for mental health, but I think now it’s time we look to try and understand mental health in the same way we look at physical health, because I believe largely, they are one and the same. In my own personal experience, EVERY time I really struggled to manage my mental health was at a time, I was not at all looking after my physical well-being. Whether it was losing out on sleep, eating poorly, not exercising, excessive drinking or smoking, these were all factors contributing to a rapid degradation in my mental fitness and at the time, I was not well enough aware to join the dots as to WHY I was
seeing this trend continue.

Thinking about it now, it’s entirely logical but I think when you’re living with your head in a dark cloud, it can be extremely difficult to notice small changes in your own behaviour. I know I became increasingly frustrated that I was finding it harder to get motivated and couldn’t
understand why, even though it felt like I was working HARD, I was not seeing improvements in my performance, and I was getting worse at so many of the things I previously enjoyed.

Hugh with Jonathon Quigley & Tim Emery as part of the Zanda McDonald Award

While I was certainly working hard, I was functioning at a level that was entirely unsustainable. I have a funny feeling that’s why, when our friends and family do initially ask, “is everything ok” we find ourselves somewhat offended. It’s almost as if the thinking process is “of course
everything is ok, I’m working hard, that’s what I do, I’m tough, I’ve got a handle on this, I don’t have a drinking problem because I’m still doing my job, can this person be person serious? This is one of the reasons breaking the stigma around talking about mental health is so important.

Unfortunately, I think by that stage though, the horse has bolted – it certainly had in my experience when I found myself in those stages of denial. Looking back now, I know I knew there was something wrong, but I couldn’t accept that it was me, an aspiring high performer who now was struggling to manage my mental wellbeing. It didn’t make sense because of how mental health challenges have been portrayed by the public in time gone by. In the same way society stereotypes an alcoholic to be a dirty, homeless person, tightly clutching a brown paper bag, I think we are guilty of assimilating someone with question-marks around their mental wellbeing to someone who should be in a ‘looney bin’. Both misconceptions are extremely damaging and, in many cases, couldn’t be more inaccurate. I believe we have a responsibility to abolish such barbaric rationale if we are going to make a real difference in this space.

It is vital that good mental health support platforms exist because we’re not always going to get it right. And when we get it wrong, it’s important we can seek help and for that process to be as positive as possible by eliminating stigma. In my opinion, if stigma is going to exist for those
seeking support with mental health, the same stigma should exist for anyone with a broken arm looking to get it fixed – now can we see how ridiculous that sounds?

While its important mental health support services exist, and those who need to can readily access help free from judgement, I think it’s more important we look at where we can mitigate the need for these platforms. Think of hospitals; absolutely they’re essential and save lives, but we shouldn’t look to try and be in a hospital IF we can help not being in one. I believe we have an opportunity to prevent these extremely tough conversations from occurring if we are ten steps ahead. As individuals, as friends and as a society, if we begin to understand there could be more to the story behind a missed sports practice, showing up late to work, missing a social activity or even having a few extra drinks after work, we can start to look at how to address arising challenges at a time where they are more easily manageable and indeed more comfortable to talk about.

This isn’t to say, we should be happy ALL the time, that would be impossible; an emotion is a neurohormone, which is released after a chemical reaction and carried to our brain via chains of amino acids[1]. How we react to emotions is literally in our DNA[1], but the important thing to note here is an emotion will only last 4-7 seconds from the time they’re produced, to the time they’re completely broken down and absorbed[1].

What happens afterwards?

Completely up to you… We have full control of our feelings and moods, so that’s where we need to ask ourselves; “alright, I’m not feeling great, what habits have changed for me to feel like this” and then to look
at how we can bounce back by making incremental changes to our routines. By understanding how we are feeling is not just a product of what our mind conceives, but a culmination of everything happening around us, I think is a huge step in learning how to address mental health
moving forwards.

Like everything, it’s easier said than done but it only takes a spark to start the fire that burns the forest. If we start to look at our life with a holistic approach, down to what we eat, what we drink, how much we sleep, laugh, cry, how much we exercise – are we even exercising? We’ve
been in a lockdown for almost a year! How we are interacting with others, and how we stand to benefit to learn from the smallest happenings around us; I truly believe we can begin to understand why we’re feeling how we’re feeling and start to tackle more of the challenges
thrown our way as individuals, as friends, as communities and as a society.

I think deep down we know when we’re not feeling good or if we can see our friends aren’t themselves and for now, this is the challenge I put to you; if you’ve felt better, tell someone that.

Don’t even rephrase it, just tell them “I’ve felt better”, or “I’ve had better days”, and let human nature and conversation take care of the rest. If you’ve got a friend who you can see isn’t themselves, tell them that, and tell them what you’ve noticed in detail to make you come to the realisation that they’re not letting on to something. Even if you’ve got friends who always seem like they’re on top of their game, ask how they’re getting on, what challenges they’re working through now.

The important thing to remember is we ALL have mental health. Being happy is like being at peak physical fitness and if we’re feeling a bit down, it’s no different to having the flu or pulling a hammy. We’re always quick to ask someone in a sling or on crutches “how did that happen?


Are you ok” and “is there anything I can do to help?”. Because mental health challenges don’t often present with a visual indicator, it’s even more important we consistently make the effort to check up on each other. I have no doubt, if you scratch the surface of even your most seemingly ‘OK’ friends, family members, colleagues and even strangers; it is here you’ll find the rest of the story. It’s here, with a conversation, you can change a life.

[1] ‘Six Seconds Of Neuroscience’ https://www.6seconds.org/2019/06/19/why-six-secondsabout-our-intriguing-name/
[2] ‘How your brain reacts to emotional information is influenced by your genes’ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/05/150507135919.htm

About Hugh:

Hugh is the Head Stockman at Beetaloo Station in the Northern Territory. He’s passionate about the Nothern Cattle industry and promoting the importance of the live export trade to support people, animal welfare and communities globally.

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