Breaking the Silence: Chris Roberts

By Charmayne Allison

As part of Mental Health Week, nine locals from Echuca-Moama and surrounds will share their stories.

Experiencing abuse in the army and a bitter divorce, Rochester’s Chris Roberts saw no option but to end his life.

Until a phone call from a friend reminded him he had too much to live for.

This is his story.

Produced by Cath Grey and Charmayne Allison

ROCHESTER’S Chris Roberts knows he’s here – talking, breathing, smiling, living – because of a single phone call seven years ago.

Because it was that single phone call from a friend who saw the warning signs that literally stopped him in his tracks as he was heading to the river to end his life.

After enduring abuse in the army and a bitter divorce which left him fighting for his child, Chris felt isolated and hopeless to the point where he saw no way out.

“A lot of what happened to me in the defence forces, nobody believed,” he said.

“They went through an initiation when I first joined.

“I was taken away from life for three days, they put a hessian bag over my head, stripped me to my jocks, cable tied my feet and hands together and left me in a cold, dark room.

“Faeces, urine, diesel, petrol, oil were all thrown over me.”

The first in a string of traumatic incidents – including the loss of too many dear friends who went away to war and never came back – Chris felt he had no choice but to stay silent, gagged by peer pressure and the prevailing army culture of “suck it up and move on”.

It wasn’t until 11 years later, when he left the defence force and began working as a bus driver, that he realised something was up.

“First thing in the morning I’d be getting tired and wanting to fall asleep,” he said.

“So I got myself checked out and that’s when they diagnosed me with depression.”

The diagnosis rocked him and Chris suddenly had to begin adjusting to meds, while also self-medicating with alcohol.

By the time 2012 came, Chris’ marriage had dissolved and he was thrust into the murky waters of the court system as he battled for joint custody of his daughter.

His mental health spiraling out of control, Chris struggled to see a light at the end of the tunnel, and decided to end his life.

“There can be a bad stigma about people who want to commit suicide, that we’re selfish and don’t care about others,” he said.

“Deep down inside we do care – but we feel we’re no good for them.

“But that phone call reminded me I have too much to live for.”

Realising how close he’d come to death, Chris immediately sought help, reviewing his meds and meeting with several psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors until he found ones that worked for him.

He also began engaging in exercise programs and volunteering at the local brigade to stay active and connected.

Years down the track, Chris is now living in Rochester with his wife Jenny and children Jessica, 13, Maddison, 6, and Blake, 4 – as well as his beloved assistance dog Abbie.

They’re now packing to move to Mansfield for a fresh start – the next step forward for Chris in life that, while marred by hardship, is dominated by hope.

“I used to use pain medication and alcohol to deal with my depression but now it’s my kids, my dog, my wife and the fresh air – as well as all my treating doctors,” he said.

“There’s a time where I will leave my kids behind, that’s natural life. But I want to see as far as I can with my kids and my kids’ kids.”

If you or someone you know needs help now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636. If it becomes a crisis go immediately to the nearest hospital or phone 000.