Maintaining mental ‘fitness’ was the subject of a mental health talk at Pittwater RSL.

The event on Sunday (15 October) was held at Pittwater RSL, Mona Vale, as part of Veterans’ Health Week. A number of local community organisations attended a barbecue lunch that featured a discussion between two Northern Beaches fathers, Man Anchor Founder Steven Gamble (image below, right) and Head Above Water Founder and CEO Andrew Ward (image below, left).

Andrew Ward and Steven Gamble

Mr Ward said the idea for the Head Above Water 24-hour swim came about after he had experienced a difficult time with his own mental health.

“It started back in 2018. My wife wasn’t doing too well, she had been diagnosed with Stage Four Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I’d been carrying that for quite some time and like a typical bloke probably bottled it in, I didn’t really want to talk to anybody.

“I was offered support and I didn’t take that offer. It all came crashing down, when I should have been on top of the world because my wife had been given some really good news. I ended up being diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It was really challenging, and previously I’d never really had any mental health challenges,” shared Mr Ward.

Head Above Water CEO Andrew Ward

As part of his recovery process, Mr Ward said he became aware of the scale of mental health issues and began considering things he could do to make a difference.

“I rang a couple of mates and said I had this idea for a swim. It really started from there, it was very much a grassroots idea with a bunch of mates I’d played rugby with, swimming, surfing, schoolmates.

“A couple months later, after having some chats with Gus Worland from Gotcha4Life, the concept of the 24-hour swim and Head Above Water was born. It was all about how do we help people, predominately on the Northern Beaches at the time, to help reduce suicide. The first one we did was in March 2019, and we raised $82,000. We’ve raised well over $600k since then,” said Mr Ward.

Andrew Ward and Steven Gamble

As one of the recipients of funds raised, Man Anchor Founder Steven Gamble, explained that just like physical fitness maintains good physical health, ‘mental fitness’ is the key to good mental health.

“Rethinking the way that we talk about our health, mental health and physical health, really starts to improve help seeking, and that’s the key.

“I speak to tens of thousands of people a year around mental health. It’s about giving permission to our friends and family to talk about their health in general.

“If we can take the conversation away from physical health and mental health and just talk about health in general, those barriers that stop people from reaching out start to fall away and help seeking starts to improve,” said Mr Gamble.

Man Anchor Founder Steven Gamble

“When we think about a physical analogy, if you’ve got a bad knee, and keep running on that knee, what’s going to happen?

“It’s only going to get worse, it’s only going to increase the treatment time and the intensity of that treatment. It’s going to increase the risk of us having a knee problem again. If we look at that with our mental health, it’s exactly the same.

“If we identify changes in the way we think about things, the way that we feel about things, if we identify changes in our behaviours, or we notice changes in our physical well-being, and we reach out to get help early, we minimise the impact that mental health problem might have on our life. We become well sooner, and we minimise the risk of becoming unwell again.

“If we keep pushing it aside, or pushing it down, what happens is we gradually become more and more unwell. When we do reach out to that doctor, psychologist or counsellor, the work we need to do becomes a lot more intense, a lot greater, and that distance to wellness becomes a lot longer,” explained Mr Gamble.

Focus on mental fitness at Pittwater RSL

On behalf of Veterans’ Health Week, Pittwater RSL Sub-Branch President Deborah Carter (main image, second left) thanked Mr Ward and Mr Gamble for their insights and encouraged people to maintain a strong connection to their community through participation in community organisations.

She also encouraged family of current and former serving members of the Australian Defence Forces to consider joining their local RSL Sub-Branch in addition to joining their local RSL Club.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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