Zak was 20 when he experienced his first mental health episode. After receiving a diagnosis of Bipolar and schizoaffective disorder, he knew he wanted to be part of the Black Dog Institute after registering a fundraiser for his birthday.

It was scary when I experienced my first mental health episode at 20, as I didn’t understand what was happening. I have always lived with some form of mental health challenge, as I have had high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression since I was a kid, but this was different.

I was first diagnosed with early psychosis in March 2019, and then in December 2020, I found out I had Bipolar, right in the middle of COVID.

“I know some people find it challenging and distressing when they first receive their mental health diagnosis, but for me, it almost felt like a relief to finally get some answers.”

I am so lucky to have supportive friends and family, and even when they didn’t understand what I was going through, they always helped me with whatever I was experiencing as best they could. I’m also so grateful to have great Doctors who were amazing at helping point me in the right direction so I could access the support I needed.

After my diagnosis, I started seeing a psychologist, but then I experienced a severe manic episode, and that’s when I was first prescribed medication to help keep my mania and depression at bay.

Now I manage my diagnosis with therapy, medication, and mental wellness. It is important to me to live my best and fullest life, so I promised myself to do anything within my power to stay healthy. My mental well-being is just a part of my life now and is just as important to me as eating healthy and exercising.

I recommend making it a part of your daily routine, so it becomes a habit, whether it is taking your medication, attending appointments, or having structure throughout your day.

Now, even when I feel well, I stay connected to my support systems (friends, family, and doctors), I take my medication when I am supposed to, and I maintain a healthy lifestyle.

I recently signed up to be a lived experience presenter with Black Dog Institute, and I can’t wait to start sharing my story with others. I feel like I can make a real change to someone who may struggling. It feels great to be a part of something bigger than myself and connect with a community of amazing people.

“I want everyone to know that they can live a great and fulfilled life, just like I do.”

I’m not ashamed of my diagnosis and feel proud to be on my journey. It means a lot to me that I can use my experiences to help others, especially if they are finding their own journey challenging. I know I’m not alone and I want them to know that too.

If I could advise someone on a similar journey, I would tell them even though they might feel like you are in a dark tunnel now, trust me when I say things will get better with time. Mental wellness ebbs and flows, but you get better at managing it and learning what you need.

If you or anyone you know needs help: