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Terry Heafield: Don’t Do It Alone ride countdown
This Saturday 30 July, Operations Officer Terry Heafield will embark on an epic 2500 kilometre bike ride, stopping off at fire stations around Victoria to engage CFA members in open conversations about depression and anxiety.
About three years ago, Terry recognised he was in trouble.
“I’ve always been a laidback sort of person and happy-go-lucky,” he said, “but I noticed I was always mad, always upset. I saw it in the way I was reacting to my kids [two boys, now 16 and 14 years of age].”
He did beyondblue’s online self-check and all his answers pointed to depression and anxiety. He completed another test with his GP where he broke down and was immediately referred to both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, with medication also prescribed in a bid to lift the descending blackness.
“The anxiety had been accumulating for a few years, well and truly” continued Terry, “but I’d come to think it was just me. I thought it was just a real flaw in my character and that was confronting. I have high expectations of myself. I like things done properly and achieving the best I can achieve so I put the pressure on myself at work and in sport.
“I’d been a blokey bloke who liked the outdoors and physical activity but I think that was one of my detriments. I was hiding behind my masculinity and thinking, ‘Blokes don’t go to docs. Blokes don’t go to psychologists.’”
It was soccer that pushed Terry over the edge. It’s usually the red card that sends players off the field but “I got the yellow card and promptly walked off the field thinking, ‘Poor me. Why is it always me?’ It was all hitting me at once.”
Terry spent the following two days in bed, unable to perform even the most basic everyday tasks because the weight of depression was so overwhelming. His escalating me-against-the-world thoughts so alarmed his wife Kylie that she accompanied him to his next psychiatrist appointment.
“I was in a state where I’d contemplated suicide and worked out how, when and where,” continued Terry. “I could see the shock on Kylie’s face as I voiced my thoughts, and from there I was admitted to a specialist unit as an involuntary patient for a few days.”
Terry was off work for six months with the full support of Operations Manager Stewart ‘Sooty’ Kreltszheim and Operations Officer Ashley Mills. He kept busy pulling apart an old car and got back into coaching the under 16s cricket team.
“Sport plays a big part in our family life,” said Terry, “and it’s really good to connect with family and have that experience of togetherness. We’ve also bought some land in Holbrook where we camp, have a fire and a talk.”
Terry has only stopped seeing the psychiatrist this year and still sometimes sees the psychologist. He wasn’t able to take the night medication when on night shift so, to safeguard his mental health, he has moved from being a career firefighter into an operations officer role.
He is also now an ambassador for White Ribbon: an opportunity to teach boys and young men about respectful behaviour towards women and what’s acceptable.
“Sooty talks about learning, earning and returning and that has had an impact on me,” continued Terry. “I feel I’m on the mend and I’m now thinking more about giving back.
“I try to see when people are struggling. I have two brothers in the fire service – Tony and Noel – and I want to say to them, ‘You can have issues; it doesn’t matter who you are or what job you have.
“The ride is the first step but I’ll never be able to measure its success. Anyone who wants to come along to the fire station stop-offs is welcome. I’ll go through my story and if anyone can relate and it leads to them opening up, that will be a victory.”
Already the email Terry has forwarded to all CFA staff has prompted many positive responses with people telling him that he’s not alone.
“Of course I worry about job security but I had to do it,” he said. “I want to break the stigma and alert senior management.
“My message is that it’s not a weakness; it’s an illness. Seek help. Put your hand up. Open communication is so important. Use the resources inside and outside the organisation. Use the peer program.
“This ride is to show people that there is light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a long, hard road but you’ve got to look after yourself because there are people out there who love and need you.”
Follow progress on Terry's Don't Do It Alone Facebook page.
One-on-one confidential support for CFA members and their families
Peers provide an initial point of contact for support and guidance. Each of the peers is a CFA member - many are volunteer firefighters - so they understand the pressures of the job. Based around the state in every region, they can help members work through issues or get further support if needed.
Contact your local Peer Coordinator for more information.
Member Assistance Program
Psychologists and counsellors provide professional mental health support to members and their immediate family members in a range of areas including family and relationship issues.
Members can access three confidential, free counselling sessions. CFA is invoiced for the cost of these sessions without any details being passed on.
Call 1300 795 711 (24 hours)
CFA Chaplains work alongside the peers, providing non-denominational pastoral care including spiritual, physical, psychological and emotional care and wellbeing support.
Call 1800 337 068 (24 hours)