Mike recalls himself being depressed from the age of 13 right through to his early twenties.
“I have always had big feelings, and for a guy, you grow up thinking other guys don’t have that. It left me feeling embarrassed and weak.”
These feelings impacted Mike so much he was reluctant to share his diagnosis with work colleagues and friends. Over the years, he tried a range of medications and saw a Psychologist for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). “I made the personal decision to stop medication, because I had the agency to try something alternative. For me, that was exercise”.
"Running was such a simple strategy, that when you’re in it and those feelings are so big and consuming, it seems ridiculous that something so simple could be so helpful". Recovery for Mike was slow, but through regular running, and creating small habits that were easy to integrate into his daily life, the fog began to clear.
One of Mike’s personal breakthroughs came in 2019 when he ran the Melbourne marathon. “I remember thinking, I can do things with this diagnosis, I can still achieve things!”
Unsatisfied with his experiences working in retail management and HR, Mike knew he wanted to help others on their own mental health recovery journey. He began a Peer Worker Cadetship with Wellways – which allowed Mike to continue earning while qualifying as a Peer Worker.
“Changing careers as a guy is terrifying. You might be the provider for your family or have people who rely on you and your income. Knowing I’d be earning while I was learning was a huge weight off my shoulders.”
Mike recently met with Victoria’s Minister for Mental Health, Gabrielle Williams, to speak at a press conference about the Victorian Government’s new Earn and Learn Traineeships that will allow trainees to complete their studies in mental health and gain hands-on experience while getting paid. It’s Mike’s hope that more men step forward for a career in mental health.
“More and more men are beginning to realise and agree we should be talking about our mental health more. When you open that door with another guy, and start talking about feelings, it’s so encouraging to identify that need and want in other guys to learn to deal with their shit a bit more.”
“My passion is in peer work. Which is not about fixing someone else’s problems, but walking alongside them, as they discover what recovery looks like to them. The best thing about my job is all the open discussions I have about mental health – often just two guys having a coffee and talking about big feelings!”
When asked what advice Mike would give to other men thinking of a career change in mental health, he said “It’s scary, but if you need your work to align with your personal values, and you want to be part of a refreshed mental health workforce, you’ve got to take the leap. If more men started talking about mental health and supporting each other, the culture will change, and we will see a rapid decline in suicide.”
“Big feelings are normal. Let’s normalise talking about them, too!”
Wellways will be providing 12 traineeship positions later this year through a Victorian Government Mental Health Workforce Grant. The paid traineeship will be run in conjunction with formalised learning in a Certificate IV Mental Health or similar course.