OPINION: We might talk about mental health a lot. But James Packer has done something different.

Australian businessman and investor, James Packer, this week announced his resignation from director of his company Crown Resorts.

At first, the 50-year-old cited personal reasons.

If he’d left it at that, there would’ve likely been some speculation, but relatively soon we know it would’ve evaporated.

But Packer, the son of philanthropist Roslyn and media mogul Kerry Packer, chose not to leave it at that.

A spokesperson from his investment company made the official statement; “Mr Packer is suffering from mental health issues. At this time he intends to step back from all commitments.”

The billionaire is hardly the first public figure to disclose their experience with mental illness. Jana Pittman, Greg Inglis, Jessica Rowe, Miranda Kerr, Steve ‘Commando’ Willis, Jessica Marais, Ruby Rose and Matthew Mitcham are among those who have shared their stories about living with mental health struggles.

There is something, however, that these public figures have in common. They spoke about their mental illness in retrospect.

Why what James Packer did was different. We discuss on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

Doing so is no less courageous or powerful than speaking about a struggle which is present. By putting varied faces to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bipolar, and many others conditions, these Australians have done us all a significant service. We are shown that mental illness does not discriminate, and with every ‘admission’ we go some way in breaking a firmly entrenched taboo. It also contributes to the critical narrative millions of us need to be reminded of everyday; You can get through this.

But it is also, perhaps, safer to speak about mental illness in past tense – or at least as something one now has “under control”. They take medication. They exercise. They’ve spoken to, or are currently speak to, a psychologist. They know what to look out for. In terms of their career, they’re a safe bet. 

What James Packer did was markedly different, and an act which has set a historic precedent.

Today, Packer is not okay. He is a man in crisis. His mother has flown to the United States to be with her only son, and it is speculated he is undergoing serious treatment.

We have hardly ever seen a businessman of Packer’s status declare they’re not coping. But the father of three belongs to one of the most at-risk demographics when it comes to mental health, with 72 per cent of Australian men not seeking help for mental disorders. The number of men who die as a result of suicide in annually in Australia is nearly double the national road toll, and they constitute six out of every eight suicides a day.

Politician John Brogden this week told the story of visiting Packer at his Park Street office to ask if he would, “increase his already generous annual donation to Lifeline“.

Packer was running late from another meeting, and Brogden thought it best just to reschedule. But as he stepped into the lift, he saw Packer running towards him, profusely apologising for missing their meeting.

Packer told him his personal support for Lifeline and the cause of suicide prevention came from “his own experience and his personal journey with mental health”.

He increased his support.

Packer’s contribution to Australia’s mental health epidemic has gone, particularly this week, far beyond the financial.

There now exists a blueprint for the average Australian bloke, who doesn’t know how to say he needs time off work.

If one of Australia’s most influential businessmen can stand down for a time and address his mental health issues, then so can he.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.

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