‘He just changed my life’

“Give somebody a choice to help you.” Michael O’Connor wants others to seek out help if they are thinking about taking their own life.
“Give somebody a choice to help you.” Michael O’Connor wants others to seek out help if they are thinking about taking their own life.

Bendigo man Michael O’Connor credits the work of one man, a mental health nurse, with saving his life.

Mr O’Connor lives in Bendigo but spends extended periods of time working at his cousin’s farm in Salisbury West, halfway between Bridgewater and Serpentine.

About four years ago, the then 67-year-old was ready ‘to do away with myself’.

“It got pretty emotional for me and I was ready to bail on life,” he said. 

Unbeknownst to Mr O’Connor, someone reached out to the Inglewood and Districts Health Service mental health nurse who then sought out Mr O’Connor.

“He got in touch and asked if we could talk. I said yes thinking it was the last person I would ever speak to,” he said.

“We sat and talked for about an hour and a half and he put me back on the tracks again and I’m grateful for it.

“Another day or two and it would’ve been too late.”

The health service this month made the decision not to renew the contract for the mental health nurse from June 30 this year. 

The nurse currently works two days a week across the Inglewood and Districts Health Service catchment area, spanning the southern half of the Loddon Shire. 

Mr O’Connor said the news was devastating.

“I just couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I can’t understand why they’re doing it.”

Inglewood and Districts Health Service acting chief executive Kathy Huett said the decision was due to a change in focus of federal government funding.

The funding, provided by Murray Primary Health Network, is being reallocated to focus on chronic disease – namely the areas of heart and lung diseases, and diabetes.

Mr O’Connor, who still sees the mental health worker, said there were many others who still needed his help.

“He just changed my life. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him and I’d say I’m not the only one.”

The mental health nurse sees about 39 clients across townships such as Bridgewater, Newbridge, Wedderburn and Inglewood.

Alcohol and drugs services provided a social worker will also be cut, resulting in three days less of work per fortnight for the worker.

Both Inglewood and Districts Health Service and Murray PHN are looking into other options to fund the two positions, but at this stage, the contracts will cease in just over five weeks.

Mr O’Connor said, regardless of the outcome, it was important that people, or people they knew, sought help. 

“Definitely seek somebody out because it does help - it’s too late after you take the wrong step,” he said.

“Give somebody a choice to help you.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health difficulties, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, visit www.lifeline.org.au or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.