**Content warning: Jimmy’s lived experience story talks about suicide, depression and the loss of a loved one. If you feel distressed by any of these topics, please contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or First Nations Australians can contact 13 Yarn (13 92 79) for culturally safe 24-hour crisis support.

After losing his father to suicide as a child, Jimmy decided to become a lived experience presenter with Black Dog Institute and now has his own mental health podcast.

When I lost my Dad, I was young, so I didn’t really realise the impact it had on me. However, in high school when I turned 16, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, and that opened my eyes to, "Oh, this why I feel the way I do”, and I was able to learn more about my mental health. It was a really validating experience for me, instead of always wondering why I felt down and alone in my experience.

I started my mental health podcast for mental health during COVID called Open Dawe, and I was really lucky to have someone come on an episode from the Black Dog Institute. It was awesome to talk about the Institute and once I finished recording that episode, I asked them what more I could do to be involved with mental health work because it's something I'm really passionate about, and that’s when I started working with the Black Dog Institute, Lived Experience team. That was two years ago now!

I did a few more podcast episodes and then got a new job and had to pause it due to time constraints, but it's something I really want to restart again.

As part of the Lived Experience advisory group, I have been able to be involved in Mullets for mental health, and the feedback I have been receiving has been really awesome.

“It really helps my mental health knowing that I'm doing something to help others and I am a part of the solution for creating more awareness across Australia.”

In terms of managing my mental health, I still see a counsellor when I can to stay on top of things, and then sometimes, I still have my bad patches. So, it's always something I'm working on. I’m a work in progress, and I'm always figuring out what works; it's not always the same, and it changes over time, especially depending on what is happening around me.

I have lost a high school friend and also a teammate to suicide, so sometimes life and experiences just build up along the way. Mental health is something that I want to help educate people on, validate their experiences and then help people manage it better as well.

“If I can help one person in one small way, it would be amazing.”

My fiancée's such a big support to me. When we started dating, I explained everything I had been through to her. Now, she’s so great at noticing if I'm feeling down or if I'm a bit over-stimulated, especially if I need to take some downtime. It's funny because she calls it sending me to timeout, but it's just as simple as, even if we're doing a little project and I'm a bit heightened, she will say to me, "Just go take two." Or she'll realise if I'm flat and we need to do something to help pick me up.

I also feel really lucky to know I can go to a few family members or mates and call and say, "Are you free? I need to catch up?" And they'll drop what they're doing, and we'll catch up and chat or do some kind of activity together. (absolutely not golf because I'm terrible at golf, and it's frustrating to me, so hilariously, golf is horrible for my mental health), but we'll do something to distract ourselves, which is so helpful for me.

I'm still trying to get better at saying I'm not okay. There are still times when I keep it in, which is ironic because I tell people to seek help and say when you're not feeling great... but sometimes I need to remember to take my own advice.

There have been instances where I have had a friend going through some mental health challenges, and I've suggested to them that they go and speak to someone. They've given it a shot, and it's been great for them. Sometimes, they have tried a couple of counsellors, which is great, too, as it is really important to find the right fit for you and your personality.

“I know that seeing a professional is not for everyone, but in my experience, it has really helped.

I also know that finding the right professional can be really hard. I was lucky when I was a teenager; the first counsellor I found was the perfect fit, and then he retired, which was a stressful time because I had to find someone else, but he referred me to someone else, and thankfully, they were a great fit.

The main thing I try and tell people is don’t give up. If someone doesn’t feel like the right fit, try someone else. But if counselling, in general, doesn’t feel right for them, it's important to explore other options that do. They might need to talk to a mate or do something else to help themselves; one size doesn’t fit all.

I think the main thing I have realised over the years is that you can't eliminate mental health completely; everyone has it, and it's going to be there forever, good and bad, but you can learn how to manage it better so you can live your best life. Everyone has different challenges with mental health, and it's not as simple for some as it is for others. But it is easier when the people around you understand, too.  It's not as simple as someone saying to you: “Just be happy”. It's like, well if my brain's not allowing me to, it's not that simple.

“It's so important to realise there's a light at the end of the tunnel; even though it can be hard to see sometimes, I promise you, it's there.”

The normalisation of mental health and creating a world where people can just be open and then see signs of if someone's down and then what to do when they notice someone is struggling.  Even when people ask, "Are you okay?" Or "How are you?" And if someone responds and says, "I'm not great," people might go, "Oh, okay, sorry to hear that," but then they don't know how to progress the conversation or ask more questions even if it's obvious someone is struggling.

It can feel like a hard skill to learn, but knowing it's okay to check in with friends or ask more questions is so important because we don’t want a world where that person no longer wants to be in it, and we have lost them forever.

Even if the depression is after the grief of losing someone from suicide or other reasons, it is never straightforward. It's so helpful to understand those patterns of grief. It's something that I had to reopen because, obviously, dealing with my dad's passing as a kid was so completely different to how I would process it as an adult. I've had to re-grieve it, especially understanding the depth of what happened like I do now. So, it's a box I had to unbox and revisit, and the grief can sometimes fluctuate.

I’m so grateful to be able to channel my experiences into helping other people now, and I love being involved with the Black Dog Institute and Mullets for Mental Health. I think it's such an easy way to start a conversation about mental health. Especially if you don't normally have a mullet, someone goes, "Oh, what made you choose that?" You can go, "Oh, actually, for this campaign, it's for Mullets for Mental Health!

Which is really cool. It's like a moving billboard!!

People might not feel like they have done enough fundraising, but even if they only raised $50, that’s amazing! But I believe, more importantly than that, it's helping create conversations around mental health, and that makes a world of difference, especially for someone who’s going through mental health challenges.

“It's so reassuring to know that there are people there to care and listen; that's the biggest impact.”

At the time I was diagnosed at 16, I didn't know what I was going through because I was just sad for no reason, and I thought I had to make an excuse all the time for being sad. If you can seek help early and share your experiences with others, that’s pivotal in your journey.

I’m now 29, and I know I've got years of life ahead of me now, and that’s so exciting. When you are young, in high school, and you're going through mental health challenges, it feels like life is always going to be that way, but you've got so much time to figure stuff out and get help.

“If I could leave anyone with one message, it would be that this is only the start of your journey, and there is always hope.”

If you or anyone you know needs help: