Gary Watts was 12 years old when he first had symptoms of depression.

It was 1957 when less was known about mental illness and Gary lived rurally, so he didn’t receive any professional support until he was 18.

“I was prescribed anti-depressants, successfully, but then when I was 30, I experienced severe psychosis, including extremely unpleasant auditory hallucinations, and was admitted to Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital for almost a year,” Gary says.

Despite the health challenges Gary, now a consumer advocate and project manager for SigJaws Trust, was determined to build a successful and enjoyable life.

His ongoing self-belief and desire to be a contributing member of society led him to a career helping others with experience of mental distress. But it was not easy.

Discrimination and frustration leads to new horizons

Gary has never forgotten what it feels like to be discriminated against and how pervasive and soul-destroying it can be.

“I’ve lost an excellent marriage, several jobs, contact with my three children, financial security, self-confidence, and almost my life when I attempted suicide, from the discrimination and [societal produced] self-stigma associated with severe mental illness,” he says.

“I believe most people will have a period, or periods, of mental distress through their life,” Gary says. “What’s important for people to know is how much it helps if you can support them as they deal with that.”

Working for his community brings satisfaction

Gary’s work is important to his wellbeing.

“Being able to support others who have been through the same kinds of experiences that I have is extremely satisfying. Addressing their concerns is a continual, highly complex and ongoing task.

“I think it is important for people to talk to their GP about seeking more professional help, as well as considering whether there are any local community organisations that could offer appropriate support.”

Apart from his day job, he volunteers his expertise in leadership roles on many local committees and trust boards and has also been involved for many years with the World Health Organisation as their sole Australasian representative on the Global Forum for Community Mental Health.

Gary continues to keep himself well by pursuing a number of interests and hobbies including regularly playing the trumpet around NZ, walking, gardening, travelling, restoring and maintaining unique classic cars, going to the movies, reading books and keeping in touch with friends and family.