Brent from Clayfield in Brisbane is 30 and developed severe mental illness when on a career break in 2014. He has had a very tough few years but is now back working for the QLD Police Service and has measures in place to manage his mental health. He will participate with family and is doing the walk for many reasons, including to thank medical practitioners who have helped along the way. Here is Brent’s story, in his words.
What is your reason for participating in this year’s Walk For Awareness?
In 2014 I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and anxiety. I had left Australia on a career break and went to live in London and travel through Europe. While I was there, I began to develop a terrible anxiety which started to cripple my day-to-day life. I was too scared to get out of bed to go to work, I was worried that something horrible would happen to my family while I was halfway across the world and I was not getting any enjoyment out of life.
I decided to come home to live with my parents in Toowoomba and spent a while unemployed which fuelled the cycle and eventually manifested into major depression. One evening while I was staying at my grandparent’s house, I began to hallucinate, and I was up all night, unable to sleep. I knew I needed some help when the next thing I remember is being at my sister’s house, unable to remember how I got there (I had driven but have no memory of it) and started sobbing uncontrollably in the shower. I went to see my GP and had another breakdown and she decided to admit me to hospital. While this wasn’t the first time I had had a brush with mental ill health, it was the scariest and most confronting.
I spent three weeks in hospital getting better and eventually moved back to Brisbane to take up a position with the Queensland Police Service media unit (the employer I had left about nine months earlier). It was a turning point for my recovery, and I regularly visited my new psychiatrist, GP and vowed that I would from now on, always be open and honest about my mental ill health to my friends, family and colleagues.
I have spent the last four years carrying on with various levels of success. Over the last few months, I began to withdraw from all social activities and only went from work to home and back again. I started to get suicidal ideations and I felt a mix of sadness and flatness – depending on the day. I felt like I had forgotten how to live a happy life and stopped laughing or getting any enjoyment out of life.
Fortunately, I had learnt that I needed to reach out, and went to see my psychologist who suggested I go to New Farm Clinic. I spent just under three weeks there getting the help I needed – including a course of Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), group therapy, art therapy, exercise etc. I responded very well to TMS and was discharged and am slowly returning to work.
When I saw the Walk For Awareness, I knew that this would be a wonderful way to raise money for a good cause and send a message of thanks to the amazing mental health professionals that have helped me so much over the past four years – particularly my psychiatrist Dr Anna Cooksley and the staff at New Farm Clinic.
– Is your reason for involvement something that you have been able to speak about with family, friends and/or colleagues?
I spend a lot of time speaking about my mental ill health with my family, friends and colleagues. They all know the struggles I have day-to-day and I get a great deal of support around me because of it. I have shared my story, and many have already donated in support of my walk.
– What positives are you anticipating from participating in this year’s Walk For Awareness?
I am hoping to further expose my friends, family and colleagues to an open and honest discussion about mental ill health and to raise awareness for the work that the Mental Awareness Foundation does.
– Are you doing the walk with anyone?
My dad who is a concreter and my sister who is a Child Safety Support Officer will be doing the walk alongside me. Both my dad and sister have been an amazing support to me while I have been sick.
– What impact do you think having more people talking about mental health and stamping out the stigma associated with mental illness will have?
Even though I have made it a priority to speak about my experiences, sometimes I still feel embarrassed that I struggle with mental ill health. So, if I, as someone who is pretty open about it, can still be embarrassed, this says something about how much work we still have to do as a community to break down the stigma associated with it. That said, I do think it is getting easier and I can only see positive outcomes for those struggling with mental ill health and people who care for them by talking about this more openly and more frequently.
– Are you fundraising this year? And if yes, why?
Yes, because every cent counts and many of the organisations that the Mental Awareness Foundation assist need financial support to keep up the great work they do in the community.
– What do you do in your week to try to manage your own mental health?
I have a renewed focus on mindfulness – this includes doing guided relaxation, yoga, going for long walks, painting with water colours and trying to eat regularly and healthily. Lately it has also included trying to reclaim a better work-life balance as well as making sure I am seeing my psychiatrist regularly. I have also added a psychologist to my mental health team to study cognitive behavioural therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy.
More participants in this year’s Walk For Awareness will be sharing their story ahead of Sunday October 7. Follow more stories on our Facebook page here