** If you are triggered or are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 **
Dubbo mayor Ben Shields says he would have been dead if it weren't for the actions of a fellow councillor.
On Tuesday afternoon, Cr Shields released a statement on his Facebook page, saying he wanted to share "warts and all" about what happened on March 31.
Cr Shields said for the last 20 years he has had a major depressive illness "that only a few of my friends and family have known about".
It let to him almost dying by suicide, if it wasn't for councillor Greg Mohr administering first aid.
Cr Shields said he now had a new treatment program which has enabled him to return to work, with some limitations.
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He also addressed accusations of alleged bullying and harassment at council, as well as calls made for him to resign.
"Calls for me to resign, even more accusations being made against me, as well as plans being drawn up to forcibly take my pay and mayor's car were all going on at the very moment I was in a coma fighting for life," Cr Shields said.
"There was no pause in the attacks until I recovered - it continued on. The irony is that with me being in a coma, I wasn't aware of any of it. But my family and friends were aware and the anguish they suffered because of it is something I would not wish on anyone."
At this stage, the mayor said there was still a lot of work to do on his health.
"My left lung still has major complications to manage and my mental health is far from perfect. However, I am determined to get better - I believe when something like this happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you."
- Lifeline 13 11 14
Read the mayor's statement below:
Dubbo, I owe you an explanation.
I believe I need to tell everyone for the first time the truth about what happened - warts and all.
For the last 20 years I have carried a secret with me that only a few of my friends and family have known about.
For the majority of my life I have had a major depressive illness that has mostly been successfully managed by medication and with the support of friends and family.
The primary symptom of my illness is extreme anxiety. Over the years, through various GPs and psychiatrists, medications changes, and improved knowledge about my illness, it has become easier to manage.
However, even with the right treatment, I can still get these episodes of extreme anxiety.
On the 31st of March I came very close to killing myself. In other words, I almost died by suicide. If it wasn't for the quick action of Clr Greg Mohr in both administrating correct first aid, as well as getting an ambulance to my home, I would be dead.
It started on March 29th, on Monday morning. As I was waking up two councillors were on radio demanding my resignation as mayor. My initial reaction was that it was either misreported or an early April fool's joke as I had been working and speaking with them positively right up until that day.
Come Wednesday, after two sleepless nights, I heard news that they were meeting with other councillors to get them on board too.
I attended my Wednesday Meet the Mayor in Wellington as normal and was traveling back to Dubbo when I decided to go to Greg Mohr's house at Wongarbon to discuss the way forward.
Around midday, while at Greg's house, the news came through they were finally successful in convincing 4 other councillors to jump on board in calling for my resignation. It was the straw that broke the camel's back. Knowing that the attacks would keep occurring each and every day, my reaction was very different to all the other times challenges have occurred in council - I thought the only way out was to kill myself.
It was a very unusual feeling that descended over me at Greg's house that I had never felt before. The best way I can describe it is like a different app switching on, and I was suddenly calm and I knew that I was going to go home and end my life. I was calm and was able to convince Greg that I would be ok.
When I got home, I was also able to convince my partner to go to work as I would be ok.
Once alone I [attempted suicide] which eventually led to me slipping into a coma.
One of the last memories I have from that afternoon before emergency services turned up is laying on my kitchen floor with my sausage dog Charlie licking my neck. I remember thanking him for being the best little doggie I have ever had. That's when (Cr Mohr) Greg and the emergency services arrived.
Thankfully, Dubbo Base Hospital had one of the most brilliant teams of medical professionals on staff at the time and they rallied to keep me alive.
I spent the next 6 days in a coma on life support, with tubes down my throat and on a ventilator pushing oxygen into my lungs.
During that period my kidneys failed, I had a fever, tremors and developed a lung infection.
After I finally woke up, it was discovered that I had developed pneumonia in the lungs, as artificial breathing via a ventilator doesn't quite work as well as natural breathing.
The doctors at Dubbo Base immediately put me on antibiotics and started treating this significant lung infection. Despite the brilliance of our Dubbo doctors at treating me, X-rays were showing a mass on my left lung.
Turns out that infection is called Hospital Acquired Pneumonia and in my case, so severe a specialist surgeon at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney was required to surgically drain and remove part of my lung. An air ambulance was arranged to fly me to Sydney and before I knew it, I was undergoing major surgery that required the removal of a portion of my left lung while spending nearly a week surgically attached to a machine that continually drained the infected pus out of my lungs.
A week later, after the drains were removed I was free to return to Dubbo Base Hospital to continue treatment via intravenous antibiotics.
Once my lung treatment concluded it was finally time to confront my mental health demons. I spent some time with specialist mental health practitioners. With their guidance a much better, more comprehensive mental health plan has been arranged. My new treatment program has now enabled me to return to work (with some limitations for a few weeks).
There are some things that happened over the last 6 weeks that I will find very hard to forgive.
Calls for me to resign, even more accusations being made against me, as well as plans being drawn up to forcibly take my pay and mayor's car were all going on at the very moment I was in a coma fighting for life. There was no pause in the attacks until I recovered - it continued on. The irony is that with me being in a coma, I wasn't aware of any of it. But my family and friends were aware and the anguish they suffered because of it is something I would not wish on anyone.
In Australia we live in a democracy. The way Australians elect our leaders is via the ballot box. The sort of primitive tactics that recently happened in Dubbo should be left to banana republics - not Australia. Our sacred democracy means that anyone in Dubbo has the right to run for council and to be the mayor. They just need to do it via an election - not banana republic-style chaos.
I still have a lot of work to do on my health. My left lung still has major complications to manage and my mental health is far from perfect. However, I am determined to get better - I believe when something like this happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you. I choose the latter.
I literally have dozens of people I need to personally thank for their assistance to me and my family during this awful period.
I simply wouldn't be alive if it wasn't for Greg Mohr. Greg is like a brother to me and I cannot express my appreciation enough for his help right through this ordeal. I also need to thank people like Jess Gough and Natasha Richardson who organised the 400-plus vigil that lifted the spirits of my family and friends. The medicos at Dubbo Base, who were all barracking for me not only did an extraordinary job medically, but really went above and beyond to ensure that my family and my privacy was protected.
I should also thank my friend Ross Grove (who is a walking encyclopaedia on Councils and Local Government). Ross drove here from Sydney to make sure that I was being treated correctly and that fair and due process was occurring.
Obviously my biggest appreciation goes to my Mum, Dad and Partner, who had plenty of sleepless nights in the Intensive Care Unit by my side. My best mate Mick Catelotti also dropped everything to do whatever he could do to help.
Lastly, I also wish to thank the thousands of people who...continued to back me and the job I am doing. I have never seen such a large amount of people come out and support a local politician before. It's their continued support which is keeping me going.
** If you are triggered or are experiencing a mental health crisis, please contact Lifeline on 131411 **