Taking mental illness out of the shadows Nicole Graham

"At the start of these evenings people are sitting at a table and no one is talking, but by the end of the night everyone is talking about it."

NICOLE Graham has had open heart surgery, been on life support and had cancer, but it was mental illness that was most life threatening.

The mum of three, who now calls Campbell Town home, will be the guest speaker at the beyondblue gala dinner this month.

Ms Graham, who has been a beyondblue speaker for 12 months, will share her story of mental illness and deliver a message of hope to those in attendance.

About 10 years ago Ms Graham's psychiatrist said the following: "Her outlook for the future is bleak and her need for ongoing psychiatric care is great ... I don't think she is likely to manage a return to work in a substantial way."

MESSAGE OF HOPE: Nicole Graham will speak about her struggle with mental illness at the beyondblue gala dinner this month.
MESSAGE OF HOPE: Nicole Graham will speak about her struggle with mental illness at the beyondblue gala dinner this month.
Today, Ms Graham is the founder and director of Emergency ID Australia - world leaders in medical jewellery and emergency ID - and is the president of the board of AUSBUY.

She recently moved to Tasmania and purchased an 1857 heritage listed church at Campbell Town which she and her husband are converting into a cafe.

Ms Graham has won numerous business awards including Business Woman of the Year.

About a decade ago she attempted suicide. It had culminated after leaving the police force diagnosed with post traumatic stress, chronic depression and anxiety.

"I was a mess, I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, " Ms Graham said.

"I was seeing psychologists and psychiatrists and having regular treatment. I even attended a clinic at a psych hospital one full day a week so I could learn to manage my illnesses.

"No one ever knew I was even attending these sessions, it was my secret, it was too shameful and the stigma and judgments were something I couldn't have coped with.

"I was bringing up two small children by myself, had lost my career, my identity, my husband, my home, some family and friends, my drive, my motivation and, most importantly, I had lost all hope.

"Losing hope was the most dangerous thing."

Ms Graham said her life wasn't as she planned. She intended to be the first female police commissioner for NSW. Today she is happily married with three children.

For 15 years she has been living with mental illness and was very sick for five years.

"It stole so much of my life and so many good times and memories," she said.

Ms Graham said evenings, like the gala dinner hosted by the Rotary Club of Ulverstone West and supported by beyondblue and Australian Rotary Health, allowed conversation on what had been a traditionally taboo subject.

"At the start of these evenings people are sitting at a table and no one is talking, but by the end of the night everyone is talking about it."

Ms Graham said that by sharing her story she could be saving the life of someone in the room or a loved one.

"We need to treat mental health issues as physical illnesses. People need to think about how they would help if their friend or family member had cancer or heart disease. Whatever you would do in that situation, you do with mental health issues."

Ms Graham will be the guest speaker at the beyondblue dinner on October 24 at Ulverstone. For more information contact Lindsay Morgan on 64252580.

If you or someone you know needs help contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or Lifeline on 131114.