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Newcastle Herald


Author: Lisa Allison
Date: 20/08/2002
Words: 798
          Publication: Newcastle Herald
Section: Health And Fitness
Page: 24
IT felt like I was living in fog,' recalls actor Garry McDonald.

At the height of his clinical depression, McDonald could not bear to be looked at, which is quite a

dilemma for someone who has been a professional actor since he was 19.

Speaking about his breakdown in 1993, McDonald said the problem overwhelmed him when he was

trying to resurrect the Norman Gunston Show.

The Australian actor is perhaps best-known as the obsequious Norman Gunston.

Audiences loved him as the hyperactive interviewer with a face permanently nicked from shaving and as the cardigan-wearing, down-trodden Arthur Beare opposite Ruth Cracknell in the long-running ABC series Mother and Son.

'It got really bad in the lead up to Norman ... it all got very messy and it kind of tipped me over the edge,' McDonald says.

He had no appetite and could not sleep, despite feeling exhausted.

'Going to the theatre was awful. I felt like everyone was saying how terrible my performance was. I remember sitting with the choreographer and I was simply unable to get up and do anything,' he says.

'I would be really bad all day but would be better by around 6pm. I could get the show on but I could not rehearse.

'It really did get to the stage where I could not get out of bed.'

He ended up waiting outside his GPs surgery sitting 'in the gutter' because he could not bear to be in the waiting room.

He was diagnosed with depression and had to pull out of the show.

The next few months were devoted to getting better.

McDonald, an inaugural board member of the National Depression Initiative, will speak about that experience in Newcastle tomorrow at West Leagues Club as part of Psychology Week.

Initiated by the Newcastle Branch of the Australian Psychological Society, a week of events will highlight how psychologists can help people in distress and their role in treating mental illness.

When someone as well-known as McDonald has a breakdown, everyone finds out about it. While that would have been a daunting experience, McDonald decided to use the public scrutiny to raise awareness about mental illness.

McDonald says it is important for people to realise that when they fall down mentally, they can get back up again.

That will be the focus of the award-winning actor's speech in Newcastle tomorrow.

'It will be about anxiety and depression; how it affected me and how I overcame it,' McDonald says.

'It's humorous when you look back on it.'

His depression, it was discovered during treatment, was caused by an underlying anxiety disorder, a problem which had lurked in his psyche for years.

McDonald had his first anxiety attack when he was 22.

'It felt terrible. I just froze up,' recalls McDonald, thankful he was not on stage at the time.

After the 1993 breakdown, it was clear he needed help

Treatment came in the form of medication for 15 months, long-term cognitive therapy at the St Vincent's anxiety clinic in Sydney, meditation and exercise.

The anxiety attacks are now controlled.

'Cognitive therapy teaches you to recognise what stresses you and how to control it,' McDonald explains.

'Once I find out what is making me panic, I put it in perspective.

'The anxiety ... it just got so ferocious.

'I feel like everyone is looking at me.'

That comment is astounding, considering the things Norman Gunston did to attract attention to himself.

Gunston once asked Prince Charles how his 'mum' was.

His Highness was not amused.

In 1975, Gunston buzzed up and down the steps of Parliament House when the Whitlam Government was dismissed, armed with his microphone and accosting the main players with his quick one-liners, stamping Australia's most tumultuous political event with his comic mark.

In the future, he will continue his work with the National Depression Initiative, an organisation supporting mental health research and working to lift the stigma attached to depression.

Professionally, he is working on a sitcom and his next theatre role will be in the Neil Simon play Laughter on the 23rd Floor.

Highlights of Psychology Week, which runs until August 23, include a public forum, a careers night, a research conference, radio talkback and Garry McDonald's speech at West Leagues Club tomorrow at 8pm.

Tickets are available at the Wests Leagues Club on 4935-1300.

Other highlights include a professional dinner hosted by the director of the Hunter Institute of Mental Health Dr Trevor Waring.

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