Since the age of four, Aaron has been in some form of psychological therapy. Complex mental health issues as a child and young adult made his school years very difficult. Today, this honest and courageous young lawyer has conquered many of his biggest challenges and is becoming part of the future of mental health support at Beyond Blue by leaving a gift in his Will.
“School was awful, absolutely awful,” says Aaron.
“I didn’t have any close or constant friends. I was bullied. I was very reluctant to go to school. Hated it. Absolutely hated it. To the point where I would be in tears.”
“I remember quite vividly days when I would just refuse to get out of the car in the mornings. I actually had both my mother and a teacher try and prise me from the car one day.”
Struggling through his primary and early high school years in Tasmania, Aaron found it very hard to cope with mainstream schooling. He felt his parents never really understood his complex mental health issues, with his diagnosed conditions including Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression.
“My mental illness had a major impact on family relationships and dynamics,” he says.
“It felt like my parents didn’t really have any knowledge or experience about raising a child with special needs.”
It was quite awful and I don’t think I have fully made peace with it yet. There are a lot of feelings still associated with it which I am still working through.
Things started to change for Aaron when he moved to a new school for Year 11 and 12.
“A lot of stuff changed for me. I changed psychologists and tried out a mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) program. I found some subjects at school that I loved, actually made some friends, became quite independent and discovered a bit of capacity that I didn’t think I had – like getting to school myself without having to be dropped off, catching a bus.
“And despite my parent’s reluctance… I came out as a gay man when I was 17.”
Aaron worked hard, graduated Year 12 as one of the top 100 students in Tasmania and found himself at University of Tasmania studying law.
“I continued to grow and flourish, graduating as a university medallist, and met academics and mentors who were all enthusiastic and passionate and fascinating,” he says.
“I also began to properly indulge my passion for pop music, running a short-lived pop music website, discovering the Eurovision Song Contest and amassing a collection of about 3000 CDs, including many imported from across the world.”
I found my tribe.
“It definitely feels like things have mitigated for me as I’ve grown up,” says Aaron.
“I still have difficulties with my mental health, but it’s never had quite the same impact as it did when I was a kid. Maybe I’ve developed some better coping skills and have accessed better supports.”
Because of what he has lived through, Aaron is passionate about reducing stigma of mental health, providing information, helping people understand what options are available and how to access them. The support he received from mental health professionals as a child was his lifeline.
“It was critically important and helped me immeasurably in terms of understanding what was happening and why. It helped me deal with the tougher and darker parts of it.”
I might not even be here without that support. A very scary thought.
Aaron was shocked to recently discover that his mum had also been suffering from a mental health condition and that she had accessed support from Beyond Blue.
“I grew up thinking that there was no history of mental health issues in my family,” he says.
“Turns out my mother had actually been struggling with these things for at least the best part of twenty years.
“I grew up with this image of my parents not understanding mental health, only to discover recently that my mother has the Beyond Blue butterfly tattooed on her ankle. I never had any idea she’d made that connection or accessed that support. It’s quite special.”
Reducing the stigma around mental health and helping people understand what supports are available and how to access them is the driving force behind Aaron’s decision to leave a bequest to Beyond Blue in his Will.
“These types of support are incredibly important and chronically underfunded,” he says.
“I don’t have the experience, the knowledge or the professional skills to provide those primary supports myself, so the ability to support, participate and help through providing a charitable bequest is significant for me.
“Many people think bequests (gifts in Will) are only valuable where they have a lot of money. But even a small amount is incredibly valuable. Literally every cent counts,” says Aaron.
“What has happened to me, I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. I want to help keep Beyond Blue going and offering support to people like me and my family.”
Aaron’s gift will help create lasting change, protecting everyone’s mental health and improving the lives of people affected by anxiety, depression and suicide into the future.