23 years on and I still need to talk about it

I recently reflected on 23rd anniversary of watching my 23-year-old brother tragically die before my eyes, the result of us both being electrocuted in a sailing accident. It was the event that led to a continued two-decade, almost once life-ending battle with the black dog.

With previously little knowledge of what depression was, I began experiencing severe anxiety attacks and thoughts of suicide that would later be diagnosed as a post-traumatic stress disorder. I had no idea what was happening. And I was certainly far too ashamed of what I perceived as a weakness to share my feelings with my wife, let alone family, friends or workmates. Without help, things rapidly became worse, and I arrived at the point where I felt I could no longer go on. Somehow in that final moment, I reached out to my wife. Help came, but so did the stigma.

It was that accident that put me on a deliberate journey to bring my social enterprise to life. Wanting to help others while also spread my love of good beer, I came upon a solution after crafting a backyard conversation with a neighbour I barely knew. While working in the backyard one afternoon, my neighbour Jason stuck his head over the fence and offered up a beer. Over the two hours and two beers that followed, I learnt more about Jason's life than I had in the previous five years that we had been neighbours. It was a light bulb moment.

So, with a tongue in cheek attitude of 'put two mates together with a beer in hand and the world's problems will all be sorted in no time' I set in motion the Craft Beer Coopery to provide a tool, or 'lubricant', for starting conversations- to help, particularly men, talk openly together, about life and all its struggles, to ensure they get help when needed.

Today, I'm aware of my mental illness and manage it with ongoing medication, treatment and wise life choices. I'm still very much aware of the stigma that is attached to mental illness, and the often-silent questions that are asked, particularly of a man's character. Yet I couldn't encourage others more to share their struggles with depression, anxiety, bipolar or OCD with both mates and health care professionals so they too can get appropriate support and treatment.

Here's a little of what I said about it at TedX a not so long ago.