The photograph was so disturbing, the first time I viewed it, I had to look away, as I felt as though I was intruding on someone’s deepest personal pain. The picture showed James Packer at the Crown Resorts Annual General Meeting in Melbourne in 2016, looking bloated and overweight, his eyes red and watery and seeming to scream “help!”. His pallor was an angry red; his gait that of a whipped dog temporarily let off its leash. Having met Packer on several occasions over the years, I could not reconcile the man in the photograph with the powerful presence I recalled. The words that came to my mind were “dead man walking”.
I was so shocked by the image of the now 51-year-old, I decided to send it to a friend who, at the time, had been battling a depression and anxiety problem so severe it had seen him hospitalised. I captioned the photo, “this reminds me of you at your worst – thank God you are out the other side”. My friend’s reply astounded me: “What has he got to be depressed about?”
Surely, I believed, someone who had been through the living hell that is depression and anxiety would have nothing but empathy for a fellow sufferer, regardless of status or wealth. That he, of all people, should know that there need not be a reason for depression; that the disease is mostly a product of nature not nurture.
However, as my friend admitted when I contacted him this week to ask his permission to write about our conversation, at the time his answer was the result of him still being depressed. “When you are down in the black hole every single person on the planet seems luckier or happier or better off than you,” he said. “You really can’t comprehend that anyone else could possibly understand the self-loathing you feel, how useless and small your existence or the lack of any light on your horizon at any stage in the future. Depression really is the worst as it breaks your heart, soul and spirit simultaneously.”
– Wendy Squires