Stars tell how they keep the ‘black dog’ at bay

Wayne Schwass, AFL footballer

Former AFL footballer Wayne Schwass wore the mask of depression for many years.

“I lived with it for 10 years and kept it a secret for 14 and eventually opened up about what I was dealing with and what I went through in 2006,” Schwass reflects.

“It was a liberating experience and I regret the fact I didn’t do it a lot sooner because it was at a great personal cost and it had a dramatic impact on all aspects of my life.”

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Wayne Schwass. Photo: Getty

Schwass was diagnosed with depression when 23 but used alcohol to dull the pain before having a “light-bulb moment” six years later and reclaiming his life.

Today he is an advocate for raising awareness about mental health in society and is currently one of many high-profile ambassadors part of the ABC’s Mental As campaign coinciding with Mental Health Week – October 5-12.

“I understand the impact of these types of illnesses. If my story can help resonate with one person and it can help them move forward in a positive way that’s something I’m committed to doing. I find it empowering.”

Schwass says the most difficult thing about mental illness is opening up public discussion.

“We don’t embrace and support and put our collective arms around people dealing with mental illness. We judge them differently. That’s unfair and outdated.

“The greatest thing I’ve ever done is own up to the fact I’ve had depression and not be ashamed or embarrassed by it.”

Schwass believes that we live in a materialistic society and that often people don’t invest enough time and money into protecting their mental state.

For him, it’s a combination of family support and exercise.

“My wife keeps me level. My doctor is a great resource. I have three young children now and I’m a big part of their life. I’m an avid cyclist.”

Professor Patrick McGorry, former Australian of the Year


Mental health expert Patrick McGorry. Photo: AAP

Leading mental health expert Patrick McGorry says its often simple things that can improve a sense of one’s wellbeing.

“I go to the gym and try to go about three times per week,” Professor McGorry says.

“I ride my bike to work occasionally and take the dog for a walk. I try to do as much exercise as I can with the time I’ve got.”

Making the time to stay in touch with friends and family is also crucial, he adds.

He believes there’s also a great sense of purpose that can be achieved from helping others.

“It’s amazing. A lot of people see that as a sacrifice whereas in a way there are selfish effects to it too. For most people it gives purpose and meaning to their lives.”

Away from his research into mental health, Professor McGorry is an avid surfer, his biggest mental fix delivered from catching waves throughout the year and taking an annual trip with friends to a reef break in the Indian Ocean.

“It’s been my addiction since I was about 15. I’m still able to do it fortunately.

“It’s not just the exercise or the exhilaration of catching waves. There’s something about being in the ocean and connecting  to the whole environment and almost being a part of it. It’s a very special feeling and hard to express in words.”

Ella Hooper, Musician 


Musician Ella Hooper performing. Photo: Getty

Former Killing Heidi frontwoman turned Spicks and Specks regular Ella Hooper has joined a campaign by Mental Health Australia to mark World Mental Health Day on October titled Mental Health Begins with Me.

It focuses on individuals making promises to themselves and sharing them via social media.

Ms Hooper promised to take care of her mental health “with silent days where I don’t do much other than sit down and be with my thoughts”.

“It’s up to the individual what it is that makes them feel more balanced or at peace,” she says.

“For me it’s finding time to just read a book and taking a bit of time to myself where I feel like my brain is cooling down.

“I’m a very stimulated person in my career and work life so sometimes the best thing for me to do is something really quiet and read a book or go to bed early and indulge in that time for me.”

Hooper says she makes an effort to invest time in catching up with friends and that music has always been her outlet.

“I’ve got two friends going on medication for bi-polar and I’ve had friends who’ve suffered from depression I think it’s incredibly common if not the majority.

“For me and a lot of people I think music is a fantastic release and it connects them with something that’s their joy or bigger than them. Even when I am feeling crap or feeling down it’s music that I turn to first. I put a song on that I really adore on my iPod and I’ll have a shower while I’m listening to it and it usually clears the air.”

Dr Brian Graetze, acting CEO of Beyondblue


Fun runs can boost mental health. Photo: Getty

Psychologist Dr Brian Graetze says material goods such as fancy clothes or cars often take precedence over investing in improving mental health.

“We don’t pay attention to our mental health as we should. That perhaps as a community we don’t understand what it is that makes us happy and fulfilled, Dr Graetze says.

“It’s important to acknowledge that the things that you do that don’t cost any money and that’s as simple as exercise. Whether it’s going for a run or walking the dog or connecting with your family and friends.”

In his own life, Dr Graetze follows similar principles.

“The important thing is to understand what you do in your life that gives you meaning and purpose and makes you feel fulfilled and enables you to deal with the stresses of everyday life.

“For me and a lot of people it’s things like exercising. At my age now it’s walking or playing a bit of social tennis. It’s connecting with friends and continuing to invest in friendships. It’s quite often the simple things.”


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