Ten years ago, John found himself sitting in his office late one night. He felt that he could no longer cope with his emotional pain, nor could he fix the problems that were in his life. In that very moment, he had lost all hope. But then, a thought occurred to him: that “healthy” people don’t experience such negative thoughts. And in that moment, he searched on his computer for the Beyond Blue website and completed the Anxiety and Depression K10 checklist. It was then that John realised that he may be suffering from depression.
“I don’t know what prompted it, but I got onto the Beyond Blue website and did a short survey there and realised I probably had depression. The website told me to go to my GP. That was the start of my recovery.”
Five years later, in 2015, John made his debut as a Beyond Blue Speaker. Although he already considered himself a strong public speaker, John wanted to join the Speaker Program because he felt it was important to know how to talk to an audience about mental health and suicide in a safe way.
“The training was fantastic. It got me to really think about the story arc, and having the template makes it a breeze.”
Speaking engagements are looking to be a lot different to what John – and the rest of the Speakers – are familiar with. The pandemic has changed the way we all go about our everyday lives, and for the Speaker Program that meant transitioning online through virtual events.
So, when John was asked to virtually share his story last month, his initial reaction was concern about how it would work. The audience was 50 VicWater employees who were interested to learn how they could look after the mental health of their rural and remote employees. John was not only understanding, but passionate about these challenges that the organisation was facing. John was familiar with these challenges, as he has been a rural and remote mental health worker in Tasmania for the last five years and prior to that worked as a chemical engineer in water treatment.
“I wasn’t sure how I would go [speaking virtually], but actually I loved it. I got really fired up.”
And while he couldn’t see any of the people – which he admits was a little strange – he realised he was on Zoom calls most days with work anyway and really found it to be a brilliant way to connect and communicate with people who he might not otherwise have a chance to. Though he admits it may not be for everyone, John encourages Speakers to give it a chance if they can.
Whether it’s sharing his story virtually or in person, John makes sure he always follows his self-care routine, which includes focusing on his sleep, diet, exercise and taking part in enjoyable activities and hobbies.
A lot of the things that John would normally do to stay on top of his mental health are not currently available due to pandemic restrictions, which has really been a struggle for him.
“I just set a state record in 50m freestyle in February and then the pool shut. Fishing lakes closed. National parks closed. Mountain bike trails closed. Even SES training stopped.”
John admits his mental health has been challenged in recent months, but remains hopeful that he’ll bounce back once restrictions begin to ease.
John finds the Speaker Program unique, especially how powerful it is to share his lived experience with a mental health condition. He believes it impacts people in a way that information and resources just cannot.
“I want those who are fit and healthy to be motivated to look out for their friends, family and workmates. I want those who are struggling to feel hope and to take action. I want to be a catalyst for change.”
Whether it be in the virtual or physical world, John is grateful for every opportunity he gets to represent Beyond Blue and share his story. He always makes sure that he shares this with his audience:
“It’s a privilege to be able to pay it forward. Thanks for the awesome work you guys do. I might just be alive because of it.”