FORMER South Melbourne footballer John Sudholz was a boy from the bush who starred in the VFL for a few years before heading home to his family farm.
He’s a beyondblue Ambassador these days and is happy to share his experiences to help others.
“It’s vital that we all get serious about looking after ourselves both mentally and physically.”
John made his debut playing for South Melbourne in 1966 and was the club’s leading goalkicker for four consecutive seasons. After making the finals in 1970, John made the decision to return to his family’s farm in Rupanyup, Victoria in 1971.
While working as a farmer, John continued to play for Rupanyup for three seasons before retiring from the game.
Since then he has coached junior football teams and served on various committees.
John started to ‘feel the pinch’ in the early 1980s, particularly during the drought of 1982.
“I wasn’t sleeping, I felt uptight, I was crabby with my children and my wife. I felt resentful towards the community who were always asking me to do things and I couldn’t say no.
“I would get all uptight about minor issues, making it feel like they were major issues when they weren’t.
“My personality had changed from being a happy-go-lucky guy to someone who was very aggressive towards everyone.”
In 1988, John was hospitalised as he felt completely broken down and had no confidence.
It was a long journey home after treatment.
John’s mental health issues cost him his first marriage. He believes the people closest to someone with a mental health issue get hurt the most.
He was nervous about returning to his community. Even a trip to the main street was a big effort because he was worried about what people would think of him.
“Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to understand how it would be so difficult for a bloke like me to walk into the local newsagency and ask for the morning paper. And yet it really took a lot of courage for me to lift myself up to just do that.”
But it wasn’t long before one of the locals wandered up to welcome him home. It was a simple gesture which made all the difference.
“I’m sitting there in the passenger seat, beside the supermarket actually, and he walked up to me and he just said; ‘Good day, Jumbo. It’s good to see you back in town’.
“I’ve never forgotten that. Like, he probably has, but I haven’t. And it was probably something that’s just stuck in my mind after all those years.”
Nowadays, farming is still John’s income stream, but more in an advisory role with the modern methods that the younger generation employ in the 21st century.
Sport is still a major social activity in small rural communities, even though the population is declining.
John has continued his involvement in sports although has slowed pace a little and now regularly participates in club bowls, golf and croquet.
“I’ve been a regular guest speaker at Probus, Lions, Rotary and church meetings. The grandchildren and outback travel take up a lot of my time.”
As a beyondblue Ambassador, John speaks of his experiences of depression, its impact on his life, family, farming and life today – and the great changes he’s seen in rural farming communities with men now talking more openly about depression and seeking help. He encourages other farmers to get serious about looking after themselves.
“Groups like beyondblue and Lifeline have made help far more accessible for rural people and the local health services have been very good in distributing information at local farming field days, with advice on mental health issues.
“Women are much better at communicating – they will sit and have a cup of coffee and talk about fair dinkum issues where blokes will go to the pub and not talk about what is worrying them.
“Everyone in this world has two or three mates who are true mates and will do anything for them. They will sit and talk and listen to your point of view. When you are feeling the pinch, you need to go and talk to these mates.
“It’s vital that we all get serious about looking after ourselves both mentally and physically.
“These days I visit my doctor for a health check-up about every three months.
“So I’ll go and have a check-up, go to my GP in the next three weeks or a month and just get things checked out.”