Petria's battle with depression

By HANNAH ROSS

FOR years Mullumbimby's Denise Thomas, mother of champion swimmer Petria Thomas, was scared to pick up the phone for fear of receiving bad news about her daughter.

Mrs Thomas was one of the few people entrusted with Petria's secret: despite her daughter's fame and swimming successes she was often gripped by depression and thoughts of self harm.

In her newly released biography, Swimming Against the Tide, Petria reveals her depression on three occasions threatened her life.

She had thoughts of harming herself with a knife and overdosed on paracetamol tablets, requiring her stomach to be pumped in hospital.

The depression first started when, at 19, she left home for the Australian Institute of Sport, in Canberra.

She was lonely and living with painful injuries as well as coping with intense perfomance pressures.

"There was not a lot we could do but being so far away we worried so much," Mrs Thomas told The Northern Star yesterday.

Mrs Thomas said to her mind depression robbed her daughter of the bubbly personality she once possessed.

"As a teenager she was always so happy, I think it (the depression) was just caused by the pressure and brought on by age.

"After she left home she became a very quiet and reserved person.

"I don't think she'll ever have that bubbly spirit again. I think that is the legacy of the depression."

Mrs Thomas said her daughter spoke out about her illness in her biography in a bid to help others with the disease and ease the stigma attached to it.

"The good thing about her speaking out is it shows that despite depression, you can still achieve your dreams," Mrs Thomas said.

"When the rest of the nation was saying how glad they were to see her win gold, I was was just thinking how glad I was to see her happy."

Despite Petria's decision to speak out about depression, Mrs Thomas said Petria had confided to her sister that she would be very glad when the publicity surrounding the revelation had died down.

"Even with everything her career has cost her, I still think it was worth it for her to achieve her dream," Mrs Thomas said.

For support and info on depression: Lifeline telephone counselling service 131 114; www.beyondblue.org.au (the national depression initiative); www.depnet.com.au



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