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Link between mental illness and substance abuse: Mark Eustice shares his 25-year struggle

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People with a mental illness experience substance abuse at far higher rates than the general community, a problem SANE Australia ambassador and former AFL great Mark Eustice knows all too well.

As part of Mental Health Week (October 9-15), Mark Eustice is sharing his 25-year struggle with undiagnosed mental illness and substance abuse in an inspiring and compelling video in the hope it will encourage others to recognise the early symptoms of mental illness and seek support as soon as possible.

“I lived with undiagnosed bipolar and depression from the age of 18 to 43 which was such a difficult battle for me,” Mark said.

“My life was like a frightening rollercoaster where I’d have periods of feeling really up and then I’d come crashing down.”

Now aged 53, Mark explains he didn’t understand his symptoms were linked to an undiagnosed mental illnesses and he turned to substance abuse in an unsuccessful attempt to cope.

“I didn’t know what was wrong with me so I took a mountain of dangerous drugs and went in to a downward spiral, leaving a path of destruction behind,” he said.

“My reckless behaviour attracted attention but people just wanted to talk to me about addressing my drug problem, no-one stopped to ask me about my mental health which is where the problems stemmed from.”

Mental illness and substance abuse is a complex issue. For some people it can be hard to tell which problem came first – the substance abuse or the mental illness. In Mark’s case, he believes he knows the answer.

“I know I turned to substance abuse to try and deal with my mental illness symptoms and because I didn’t recognise this and seek treatment, I ended up going down a dark road, isolating myself and pushing away many people who loved me,” he said.

“I was lucky to have people in my life that pointed me in the direction of support and helped me realise how much I’d lost.”

Mark has been clean and sober for almost 10 years and encourages everyone experiencing untreated symptoms and mental illness to seek support.

“There is no weakness in reaching out, only strength in finding support,” he said.

“If my video encourages even one person to find support, I’ll be a happy man.”

SANE Australia board director, psychiatrist and face of the ground-breaking documentary series Changing Minds Dr Mark Cross says unfortunately stories like Mark’s are not uncommon.

“Having a mental illness can make a person more likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol to make their symptoms feel better in the short-term, they essentially self-medicate,” Dr Cross said.

However, the reality is using drugs can often make the symptoms of mental illness worse.

In some cases, drug problems can even trigger the first symptoms of mental illness.

“If someone has a predisposition to a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia, drugs may trigger the first episode in what can be a lifelong mental illness,” Dr Cross said.

“People can also be diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis and be treated for this for years when the underlying illness is schizophrenia or bipolar and it may be difficult to come to a correct diagnosis for a long time.”

SANE Australia urges anyone experiencing mental health issues to seek support as soon as possible.

The key to reducing the link between mental illness and drug use is seeking the right support and not ignoring the symptoms.

“We have to work on a narrative of healing together, including lifestyle changes and being open to getting help,” Dr Cross said.

“Conversations help reduce stigma and they help carers as well.”

Mental Health Week comes on the back of figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week showing deaths by suicide hit a 10-year high of 3027 deaths in 2015, equating to eight people per day.

Photos and video available for media use

Media contact

To organise an interview with Mark Eustice or Dr Mark Cross, contact Ellen Sproule, Media and PR Advisor at SANE Australia, 0407 367 215.

Last updated: 7 October, 2016
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