Farmer speaks out about mental illness as part of Let's Talk campaign

Willis Johnston, 30, wishes he’d done something about his mental health a decade ago.

Let's Talk: Dairy farmer Willis Johnston says he wishes he had sought professional help years before he did - it would have improved his quality of life during the previous 10 years.

Let's Talk: Dairy farmer Willis Johnston says he wishes he had sought professional help years before he did - it would have improved his quality of life during the previous 10 years.

The Framlingham East dairy farmer’s journey back to good mental health has been long – about half his life.

Even though he’s been living with mental illness since he was 15, he only sought professional help four years ago. “My quality of life has improved dramatically, and if I did it earlier I could have had eight or nine or 10 years of better quality of life and not go through what I went through,” he said.

Mr Johnston is speaking out about mental illness as part of the Let’s Talk campaign. “People just need to talk about it more,” he said.

When he was 15, Willis said mental illness was not something that was talked about. “I started knowing that something wasn’t quite right in my early 20s and it’s taken over 10 years to figure it out,” he said.

Mr Johnston recently found out he probably has bipolar type 2, which he describes as having fewer manic highs than type 1. “You have more downs than ups,” he said.

Mr Johnston said when he was young he was more anxious than depressed, and it started to get worse. “Then when you’re in your early 20s you drink and you party and you don’t get enough sleep and that sort of exacerbates the issues,” he said.

He tried exercising, eating and sleeping well. “If I didn’t do that I’d fall into a massive hole and I’d be really down,” he said.

But there were still dark moments. “It got to the stage where suicide was a thought in my mind a lot,” Willis said. “There was no obvious reason. Had a great job, had a beautiful girlfriend, money wasn’t an issue, I had everything I wanted and I was sad.”

He said there was a family history of mental illness and some of his relatives had taken their own life. 

But now, after six different medications he has found one that works. “I’m pretty excited about that,” he said. “I just wish I’d done it earlier. If something doesn’t work, keep at it, don’t give up.”

Mr Johnston said when he would talk about his struggles with friends, it was often met with a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. “I think that’s probably where it could have changed for me, if someone said to me ‘go and see a GP you’re not quite right, go and see a professional’. Friends are great but GPs, professionals and counsellors are better,” he said. “It’s like if you’ve got a bad knee or bad shoulder, you’re happy to talk about that but if you’re not feeling right in the head you're ashamed and you don’t talk about that because we’re men and we don’t talk about feelings. We need to change the perception.”

  • If you need help contact Lifeline on 13 11 14