World Mental Health Day: Doug Lang's battle with depressive rumination and mental illness

World Mental Health Day: Doug Lang's battle with depressive rumination and mental illness

World Mental Health Day: Doug Lang's battle with depressive rumination and mental illness

Updated 7 October 2017, 12:20 AEDT

After decades of debilitating depression and suicidal thoughts, Doug Lang hit rock bottom when he was nearing 50.

As he was nearing 50 years of age Doug Lang's life hit rock bottom.

A result of mixing prescription drugs with excessive alcohol, he smashed up his car.

Charged with culpable driving, he still thanks his lucky stars that no-one was hurt.

When he accidentally overdosed for the third time, Cheryl, his wife, gave him an ultimatum.

"I was hospitalised several times in psych wards, it was just a nightmare and Cheryl came and saw me and said, 'Doug you're not coming home'," Mr Lang said.

"I was having shock treatment at that time. And that was the biggest shock treatment I ever had. To know that I couldn't come home to this place."

'You think life's not worth living'

Doug Lang's self-destructive behaviour was no run-of-the-mill mid-life crisis. Rather it was a debilitating mental illness that first manifested itself at the age of 10.

For a while be worked in the family dairy farm, but a continual feeling of restlessness meant he could never settle in one place or one job.

Over time his depression became more oppressive.

"When you've got really bad depression you don't see any light," Mr Lang said.

"You don't see past a day and you see so much darkness. You think life's not worth living. It's real scary. It's terrifying."

Mr Lang's illness is sometimes called "depressive rumination".

At any time, without warning, the mind can be flooded with destructive, repetitive thoughts.

For most of his life he was able to disguise his illness.

Channelling his anger into sport, he won many trophies, while alcohol helped him cope.

Ms Lang stoically stood by her husband, trying to access medical services, battling to keep the family together between her husband's periodic crises.

On more than one occasion she was asked by emergency helplines: "Do you think he's going to commit suicide tonight?"

Ms Lang often felt criticised and ostracised for daring to admit Mr Lang was suffering a mental illness. But he had become unemployable. He was frequently suicidal.

"You couldn't rationalise with him at all," Ms Lang said.

"You couldn't talk to him. There was just no common sense anymore."

The pivotal healing power of nature

Being kicked out of home was the impetus for Mr Lang to begin to change his self-destructive behaviour.

A friend signed him into Alcoholics Anonymous and he stopped drinking.

Another friend, nurseryman and tree grower Mike Edwards, was perhaps even more pivotal.

He took Mr Lang to his agro-forestry block and for several days the pair pruned eucalypts.

Soon after Mr Lang began planting trees on his 20-hectare family farm at Balintore near Colac in south-western Victoria. The effect was transformative.

Healing the landscape, which had been de-forested and degraded by farming, began to heal his mind.

"There's a lot said about Mother Nature and mental health. I can't explain it but it works. [It] works me for anyway," Mr Lang said.

"It's just lucky that he was really introduced to the therapeutics of being out planting trees and making that connection," Mr Lang's daughter Christy said.

"Since then it's [been] a real 360. It's amazing just seeing that healing in him and that want to help others as well. And show[ing] what has helped him, may help others.

"It's remarkable. It's amazing."

"It gave him a purpose and something to do," Cheryl Lang added.

"That gave him peace which was great."

The nature of survival

Eighteen years later Mr Lang's property is a showcase.

Indigenous wildflowers and shrubs bloom amongst the rocky volcanic ridges alongside towering eucalypts.

Mr Lang still relies on medication to manage his illness. But when the demons threaten to invade his mind he retreats to the plantation.

"I can go down there and work amongst the trees and just lose myself in that mindfulness," Mr Lang said.

"You know being in tune with the soil and the plants, it's amazing. It's probably one of the factors that helped save my life."

Last year Mr Lang published his book, The Nature of Survival.

It is both a memoir and self-help guide, aimed at helping overcome the stigma of mental health. The book is both moving and confronting, but clearly of benefit to many.

Mr Lang has had countless people contact him to express their gratitude.

Christy is proud of her father's courage in publicly telling his story.

"Particularly in an area like Colac. It's a very traditional sort of farming area and we kind of keep our mental health issues on our chest a little bit," she said.

"For Dad to bring that out and tell his story to everybody — I'm very proud of Dad, very proud."

She said mental health issues remain a taboo among the community.

"There is a stigma still attached to mental health" she said.

"I think we're definitely addressing it but I think a lot more needs to be thrown at it and a lot more services and just the need for people to understand that it is sickness and people need help."

Looking back on the past, Mr Lang recalls his level of desperation.

"All those years ago I thought I was a goner," Mr Lang said.

"You don't get well on you own. Through grief or depression, whatever, we all need support in our life. No matter what. I'm just lucky. I've had a good support base."

Standing Tall will screen this Sunday on Landline.