'I had to step away from the fire' - Todd Muller on intense panic attacks, mental health struggle as National leader

National MP Todd Muller has opened up about his mental health struggles during his brief tenure as the party’s leader, and the relentless panic attacks and anxiety that enveloped his life.

National Party's Todd Muller and Nikki Kaye. Source: Getty

Muller had only been in the National Party leader role since May 22 when he announced his resignation on July 14.

At the time of his resignation, he said the “role had taken a heavy toll” on himself, and his family, and it had “become untenable from a health perspective".

Today, coinciding with Mental Health Awareness Week, the Bay of Plenty MP shared more of his experience in a post on social media.

Muller says before becoming leader, he had “never had an issue previously even when life and jobs had thrown me curveballs”.

But on May 27, less than a week of being in leadership, Muller had a panic attack for the first time in his life.

“Sure, it had been a rough couple of days of media criticism, but I was heading home and had finished a couple of great conversations with mentors and supporters. I was looking forward to seeing my wife and kids before a day out in my electorate.

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The 51-year-old said in a statement that the role had taken a heavy toll on him and his family and become "untenable from a health perspective". Source: 1 NEWS

“It started with an intense prickling sensation in my head, followed by what I would describe as ‘waves’ of anxiety.”

He said the panic attacks kept coming “with even more ferocity”, and didn't cease “no matter what” he tried.

“Stretching, yoga or calming apps on my phone, nothing could stop the waves of anxiety and dread that would start the moment I woke up.

“I could tell it was impacting my performance so I was prescribed sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medication if needed to get through the weekdays in Parliament. At least this would get me through to maybe five hours sleep a night, maybe enough to function.”

He says he was “increasingly fraught with the fight”, and his “family bore the brunt of it”, which is why he chose to step away from the limelight and his role as National Party leader. 

Todd Muller returns to political arena, gives 'heartfelt thanks' for supportive messages

“In the end the frequency and intensity of the panic attacks took me to a place where I had to step away from the fire, the anxiety and the pain," says Muller.

“I am now a few months on, and with the love of family, friends, and support from a specialist I am recovering well. I have had no panic attacks and the pressure in my head has abated, although it will take time to fully heal.”

He says he loves his job as MP for Bay of Plenty and is “really enjoying being back out connecting with the people”.

In terms of advice for anyone going through something similar, the piece of advice Muller offers is for people to “speak up”, and “share the pain”.

“For me it was sharing with both my wife and towards the end a very good friend. I can’t emphasise this enough.”