Back from the edge

In 2005 there was a period when you couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on a television without hearing the name John Brogden. At only 36 he was the leader of the NSW Liberal Party and widely expected to become the next premier of NSW.

But then, nine years into his career in the NSW parliament, Mr Brogden’s political career and personal life imploded following a now infamous night at the Marble Bar in Sydney’s Hilton Hotel, where he allegedly made personal slurs and unwelcome sexual advances.

The evening involved Mr Brogden referring to the wife of his former political opponent, Bob Carr, as a “mail-order bride” and being accused of making unwelcome sexual advances towards two female journalists.

After the media reported on the events, Mr Brogden made repeated public apologies and resigned as NSW Opposition leader. Soon after, despite receiving support from those close to him, Mr Brogden attempted to take his own life. 

“I was so ashamed and felt like I was such a burden,” he said. “In my mind it wasn’t the only thing to do, it was the best thing to do.”

Mr Brogden, a Catholic, visited a local priest to confess his wrongdoings before attempting suicide at his electorate office. Fortunately someone raised the alarm and a police inspector broke into Mr Brogden’s office to find him unconscious. The following day while in respite care at a psychiatric facility, Mr Brogden asked a friend to organise a priest to come and say Mass for him.

“My faith was very important to me at that time,” he said. “I had taken myself to the edge, and I felt unworthy. I felt that taking communion would help me in my recovery.”

On September 28, 2005 a few weeks after his suicide attempt, he resigned from his position as the Member for Pittwater.

Before the incident at the Hilton, Mr Brogden had never thought of himself as mentally ill. However, he did experience domestic violence as a teenager when his mother re-partnered with an alcoholic.

“It’s very likely that I had depression since I was a teenager, but I wasn’t diagnosed until after my suicide attempt,” he said. Mr Brogden had channelled his teenage anger into ambition, which propelled him to do exceedingly well at school and in his early career.

"I was never satisfied,” he said. “I always had to work harder because that's how I pushed the pain away."

Since that trying period, Mr Brogden has held several executive positions at firms including the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Financial Services Council, Manchester Unity and Landcom.

On Australia Day 2014 he was made a Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to the community, in particular Lifeline. As chairman of Lifeline, Mr Brogden has a powerful platform to advocate for mental illness.

In Australia, almost 10 people commit suicide every day. Mr Brogden believes we are facing a national suicide emergency due largely to cost-of-living pressures and the weakening of organisations that once bound people together, such as religious institutions.

“There are a lot of lonely people,” he said. The number of lives lost to suicide in NSW — 880 in 2017 — is more than double the state’s road toll and the leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 44 years.

Mr Brogden has long campaigned for the federal government, with support from state and territory governments, to implement and fund a national suicide strategy.

In July this year, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a $503.1 million Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan — the largest in Australia’s history. His announcement follows premier Gladys Berejiklian’s December 2018 launch of the Strategic Framework for Suicide Prevention in NSW 2018-2023.  

However, Mr Brogden is adamant suicide prevention shouldn’t start or stop with politicians.  “We, as a community, all need to make a difference as well,” he said.

To coincide with Mental Health Awareness Month (October), Access Programs Newcastle Hunter and Manning is sponsoring John Brogden as guest speaker at the Newcastle Business Club’s October luncheon where he will share his personal experience of depression and suicide. He will also outline how organisations can better support the mental health of their workforce.

Access Newcastle 1800 613 155

Lifeline 13 11 14

MensLine 1300 789 978

beyondblue 1300 224 636

Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

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Lizzie Watkin Image
Lizzie Watkin

Lizzie is Team Leader Content for the Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.