Benalla man works to normalize conversation about mental health

Making a difference: Benalla’s Michael Donehue appeared on Roll with the hits this week to talk about her work to normalize conversations about mental health. Photo by contribution

Benalla’s Michael Donehue has carved out a career as a speaker under the most difficult of circumstances.

Struggling with his mental health throughout his youth, he didn’t know where to turn.

He sank into alcoholism and sometimes found himself contemplating suicide.

But his life would take a positive turn the day he overcame his apprehension and told his parents he was struggling.

That day set off a domino effect, starting with a trip to speak to her local GP.

This first conversation led him to change his life and use his lived experience to help others.

This week he appeared on Roll with the hitsa podcast and television program broadcast on Channel 31, hosted by Tiffany Cooke.

She describes the series as punching through storytelling, exploring life and human experience.

Michael said the opportunity to participate came after he spoke at a Ray Chamberlain luncheon at Crown.

“Ray was an AFL referee who has his own suicide prevention foundation,” Michael said.

“I met him and we talked. And he asked me if I would like to speak in front of 250 people and share my experience.

“It was at this event that I met Tiffany. We had a little connection and she invited me to be on the podcast and the TV show.

“We filmed the episode on Sunday (March 27).”

Michael said his appearance on the show and his public speaking was meant to encourage people to have a conversation with those they trusted and felt comfortable doing so.

“I’ve had good experiences with medical professionals, but I know there are other people who haven’t had that luxury,” he said.

“So it’s about connecting with the most important people in your life and talking to them.

“And knowing how hard life can be sometimes, there’s always someone there to pick you up and help you, if you put those things in place.”

Michael said talking about mental health and sharing what was going on in your life when you weren’t feeling well was something that needed to be normalized.

“It’s so important because the more we can open up and talk about these things, the more normal it becomes,” he said.

“For me, having grown up in Benalla, it took me a long time to open up and talk about what I was going through.

“I used to think the hardest part of living with mental illness was telling people about it.

“But the hardest part is actually putting that mask on every day and pretending you’re okay.”

Michael said the other important thing to understand was that others might have mental health issues while acting like they’re okay.

“One in five Australians between the ages of 16 and 85 have mental health issues,” he said.

“There are so many people you pass on the street who may be going through a tough time.

“So the kinder we are to each other, the better it will be for people going through tough times.”

Mental health has been at the center of debate over the past two years of COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns.

People who may have never had problems before could suffer.

Michael reiterated that if you felt like everything was wrong, it was important to have that first conversation.

“Find that person you feel comfortable with and trust,” he said.

“It could be mom, dad, a brother, a sister, a cousin, a coach, a teacher. Someone in your life you can talk to.

“We always talk about the importance of healthcare professionals, but if you don’t feel comfortable going to them, find the person you feel comfortable with and reach out to them.”

Along with speaking out about his experiences with mental health issues and helping others get on the right path, Michael has also found a unique way to spread his message.

He started a company in 2020 that sells clothes with a message that aims to help people have difficult conversations.

He describes Journey Apparel as more than a clothing brand.

“It’s about creating change, raising awareness about mental health and starting important conversations with the people around you,” he said.

“If you wear a Journey Apparel item, you are committing to providing a safe and comfortable environment for this conversation.

“You send a message from a logo that tells those around you that they won’t be judged, that they don’t need to be ashamed, and that you’re here to listen and support them. “

You can learn more about Journey Apparel at voyageapparel.com.au.

You can watch Michael’s appearance on Roll with the hits below.

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