A Warrnambool man feared he would die when experiencing anxiety attacks

LET'S TALK: Warrnambool's Frank Harney, 66, has encouraged people suffering from anxiety and depression to seek help. Picture: Amy Paton
LET'S TALK: Warrnambool's Frank Harney, 66, has encouraged people suffering from anxiety and depression to seek help. Picture: Amy Paton

RELATED CONTENT: In loving memory of Sam

Grieving father’s grim fear

IT’S impossible to understand how consuming mental illness can be unless you’ve been bitten by the black dog.

Frank Harney learnt that the hard way.

The former dairy farmer is well aware of the stigma that surrounds mental health.

“I never realised what it was like until it happened to me – until I realised, ‘hey here I am in the black hole’,” Mr Harney said.

A phone call was the catalyst for his spiral into a deep depression.

“My wife Helen and I were at a wedding and we got home about one o’clock on the Sunday morning and we got word that our son Philip had been in a bad accident and he was in hospital,” Mr Harney said.

The 22-year-old was living in Perth and had been involved in a motorcycle accident.

“We got the next available plane over and I took sick on the way over,” Mr Harney said.

He was suffering from diverticulitis, which he believes was brought on by stress.

“When we got there we went to the hospital at some unearthly hour of the morning,” Mr Harney said.

They later booked into a motel to get some sleep.

In the morning, Mr Harney was in a world of pain.

“I couldn’t get out of bed so they rushed me to hospital and I was on a drip for five days,” Mr Harney said.

Mr Harney’s son began to recover and the roles were reversed – he was now the one sitting by his father’s bedside.

“All this was mounting up on me with the lad and they were wheeling him into see me - I became the patient,” he said.

The couple returned home to their Garvoc dairy farm and Mr Harney’s mental health deteriorated.

“I started having anxiety attacks and then I went into a depression,” he said.

“I’d go to bed and I didn’t want to get up.”

Mr Harney pushed through the pain to milk his cows every day, but would retreat to the slumber of his bed when he was finished.

He said he feared he would die when experiencing the panic attacks.

“You get a sick feeling in your stomach and then a little bit later I would break out into a massive sweat all over my body and then I’d have heart palpitations,” Mr Harney said. 

Mr Harney described his wife of 44 years as his saviour.

A combination of medication and regular walks by the seaside means he now has more good days than bad.

He has spoken out in support of the Let’s Talk initiative.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional crisis, call Lifeline on 131 114.