• Mental Health is Everyone's Business

    16m 12s

    Few people have the drive and dedication of Mitch McPherson. When his younger brother Ty took his own life in 2013, Mitch, a glazier by trade, turned the devastating loss into the successful suicide prevention charity SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY.

Graphical summary and transcript




Thank you. As I said a moment ago for having me today.

Today I'm here to share with you a bit about my life, my past, a devastating experience life event that I went through and then what my life has been like the last six and a half years in doing my best to change the way that people view mental health and suicide prevention across the country. But in particular, Tasmania, where I'm from, which I now know has the second highest rate of suicide in Australia. So it's something that I'm really passionate about.

But also I get frustrated at the fact that I didn't know these stats moving before six and a half years ago. As mentioned off the top there, I've shared in a lot of different areas. I usually speak for about 50 minutes sharing my whole lived experience and my story keynoting at conferences. But I also work in schools, workplaces, wherever anyone asks me to go and spread my message. But the start is always the same and I always begin with a very the same sentiment is which I'll share with you now. I love my job and what I do now. I travel around the country. I speak. I meet amazing people. And I get to stand in front of people today and hopefully change the way you view a topic. My life is filled with passion, purpose, drive, dedication, all these things that I didn't have years ago. But at the end of the day, standing here and sharing with you and talking about the work I do brings back pretty awful memories for me. I relive every single day.

The worst thing that ever happened. And that was when I lost my best friend and someone who I loved the most to suicide. So I often stop and think sometimes. Why the bloody hell do you travel around and speak and relive that moment and bring up awful emotions? And it makes me feel pretty flat at times. But the reason I do it and the reason I'm doing it again today is because no one ever did it for me. No one ever stood in front of me when I was growing up, playing every sport under the sun or working in the trade industry. No one ever sat me down and said, Mitch, suicide is real. And whilst you might not really know anyone or you might not have experienced some issues yourself or know of people that have, it could well hit you in the face.

And so because of that, I wake up every day with that passion and that purpose to engage people and encourage people to learn more, because I didn't learn anything about it. And I strongly believe that six and a half years forward, if I knew half of what I knew back then, I strongly believed that my little brother would still be here with me today.

Before I start, I've got a quick little clip that touches on our organization and spreads a message on and shows you what our message is in Tasmania, working in schools, sporting clubs, et cetera, all across the state.

When I founded Stay Chatty years ago, I was determined to make as many people as possible learn about us and our key messages. With the heaviest of hearts I decided to dedicate my life to spreading much needed awareness to suicide here in Tasmania. As the hard work started to pay off, people began to stand up and take notice of the changes that they themselves needed to make when it came to mental health. My next goal was to create a team of dynamic, passionate and enthusiastic individuals and well, thanks to so many amazing people. We have grown and our journey is only just beginning.

Working with Stay Chatty is pretty amazing. We have a really dedicated group of people and we're just really passionate about what we do.

My name's Julia Gandy. I'm a project officer for Speak Up, say, Chatty, Facilitating Our Schools program.

My name is James Rice and our project officer Speak Up Stay Chatty.

My name's Kat. I am working on the school's program as a project officer. The messages is that we deliver are really important, particularly for young people to hear.

Human beings aren't always built to feel happy all the time. We're going to feel sad sometimes. We're going to feel moody. And that's totally normal. That's totally okay.

One in five will experience a mental health issue in their lifetime. People need to know that you're not different, strange or unusual, and that seeking help or having a good old chat about your troubles is so important. We all need to be conscious of mental health to be there for ourselves and others as much as we can.

We can only do this work if we maintain the amazing support we have had all these years. So I hope it keeps coming because it will allow us to grow even more and therefore hopefully save some lives along the way.

So cutting a long story short, these couple of photos on the screen basically sum up my life from 2006 to 2013. Start working as a glazier by trade. Taking my job incredibly seriously. And then on weekends playing as I said at the start, every sport under the sun fortunate enough to win a couple of footie flags along the way. I like drinking beers, spending time with my mates and living life to the absolute fullest on the weekend. I remember that the lead up to January 14 of 2013, my biggest issue in life was worrying about going back to work. I spent the last week of my holidays hiding away in my bedroom, thinking I do not want to go back and do that again for another 11 months. But after I finished my first day back on the 14th of Jan, I got home that night and I got a phone call from my mom that changed my life. And that was to let us know that my little brother Ty, who had turned 18, 10 days before that, had at mom's place taken his own life and ultimately suicided. It entered us into a world of devastation, sadness. There'd be people in the room, no doubt, that know what these emotions are that you feel when you touched by suicide.

Grief, sadness and guilt were the biggest ones for me in that initial first stages of trying to work out how the hell this had happened. He was 18. He was fun. He was happy. He was the last person we ever imagined that was going through a difficult time. Like me he grew up playing sports, had a lot of mates around him, and the very next day was meant to start day one of a building apprenticeship with a local business in Hobart. Over the next few weeks and months, we were asked one permanent and prominent question and that was, did you know Ty was struggling? And our answer in that next few weeks and months was no. We wrote off all the fun and happy things that were going on in his life. And we just said to people, we have no idea why this happened. We did not see it coming. But after a while, we started to drop our ignorance around mental health. We soon realized that we were incredibly ignorant and we had simply no knowledge on the topic. And when we started to learn about it, we started to learn about what signs were and how people act when they're struggling, what they do, where they go. And unfortunately for us, we realized in reflecting in the last two weeks of Ty's life that he simply wasn't okay, that he was throwing heaps of signs at us, that life wasn't right and that he wasn't in the best headspace.

But again, our ignorance, our lack of knowledge, me growing up in a society where it's not okay to talk about how you feel, prevented us from asking him a really important question, such as, are you okay? It got to three months of a lot of in-depth grieving. And I remember I dropped my mom home one day and she was an absolute mess. And on that drive home, after I dropped her off, I was driving home filled with anger, but also really filled with a real empowerment to want to do something about this. I just didn't want any more people to walk in our shoes ever again because the rollercoaster that we'd been on was awful. I got home and I started with a pad and pen drawing up a logo that I could turn into a car bumper sticker. And long story short, I created that little logo in the bottom left there, speak up, say chatty. And we sold 400 car bumper stickers in the first three days. Tassie is not a very big place and neither is Hobart. And the word got out really quick. We ended up selling a couple of thousand in the first few weeks and the awareness that I was creating through our Facebook page and may just simply writing about how awful my life was in losing my little brother created a bit of a movement down in Hobart. The logo, if you'd let me really quickly. I hope that you see a lot more of it over here. It's certainly growing. We've got rid of 40,000 in the last five years and you will spot them everywhere in Tassie and sometimes in Melbourne.

But hoping that they grow the logo for us was a recognizable way for us to pay tribute to my little brother. Yes, it was a way to raise awareness. But that car sticker, I put it out there because it really paid tribute to Ty, the type of person he was. It's inappropriate, but he used to wear a little footy shorts everywhere he went and everywhere he'd wear footy shorts. He would absolutely refuse to wear any undies. So people knew that he was 17 one night. And I'll never forget my stepmom of all people while we were watching TV in the family lounge room. I'll never forget she leant forward, picked up the TV remote. She looked at Ty in front of all of us and said, Tig. That was his nickname. Please put your feet down off the coffee table. You can only imagine what was exposed to the rest of us. My life changed. I started public speaking about it. I have no idea how I ended up raising awareness on our social media page, started doing radio, TV, things like that. Hobart needed it. Tasmania needed it. We did a statewide event and after a while, Relationships Australia approached me, said, We like what you're doing. Do you want to come and work with us and grow this movement that you've created? We're about to take over having 11 staff.

The first thing we did was the school program, which just got funded a million dollars by the state government for the next four years. We heavily evaluated the results. We get a fantastic breaking down stigma, encouraging young people to know where help is and encouraging encouraging them to know they can have conversations with each other. We've developed a community program as well and our workplace program will launch next year. But the reason I'm here today is to spruik our sports program. It was something that being personally growing up in that area, I realised that I soon believed that if I had just had someone walk in and like I said at the start. Talk to me about mental health. Talk to me about suicide. Tell me how prevalent it is. I honestly believed that I would have had my little brother still with me. And so we developed this program, which I would touch on in a moment, what it covers off on. But basically we partnered with Good Sports. It's what we offer as part of this program is a presentation from us. We had James, who is a exercise physiologist, come and join us and leave his career to help develop this program. He delivers a 45 minute session. We then ask for stay chatty rounds, clubs, run rounds which fundraise, raise awareness, and then we also encourage the club to follow up pre or post working with Good Sports to develop a healthy minds policy, ensuring that people in the club know where they can go to have safe conversations, break down barriers, assure them to know that there is help out there. This is what the 45 minute session touches on. Groups of 30.

Our organization is big on safety. There's a lot of elements around safety, but language is one of them. But also in making a really inclusive environment, making people know that they're safe, that it's okay to open up and share how they're feeling throughout the session. It touches on keeping mentally fit. Mental health 10. Team performance culture is really big, James who developed this program is huge on culture. It's so important that people understand what they do off the field or outside of training can actually help them perform better on the field. I'm preaching to the converted in the room today. It focuses on helping a teammate and also more important, most importantly, breaking down stigma. Stigma, as I said and I've already said it five times, is so important that we break that down within sporting clubs, because if we don't, the work that we do and the amazing work that other organizations do in educating on mental health in sporting clubs will go absolutely nowhere. If we don't break down that stigma and encourage people to know they're not alone.

If this works is what we've learned, we've learned a lot of things. But these are the two quick stats that I wanted to put up on the screen for you today. As I said, in the last six months, working with groups of 30, sometimes you only get 20. We've worked with just over a thousand across the state of Tasmania. 97 percent agree strongly agree that info presented in this session will promote better mental health at their club. And 98 percent agree strongly agree that they can apply what they've learned into their club. As I said, we heavily evaluate and it was only a couple of months ago we received Tasmanian Community Fund seven hundred fifty thousand dollars funding again for this program. We're having conversations with Movember and Good Sports to see how we can get this model interstate and outside of Tasmania, because I hand on heart believe it is making one hell of a difference. I know my bell hasn't gone, but I'm getting to closing up on what I wanted to speak about today. There goes my bell, amazing.

Our logo is really prominent, as I said, in Tasmania and any any spreading. But any program we do, whether that's in sport or schools or workplaces or community groups. We have five things and five really important things that I want people to always remember about mental health. You know, it's easy for me to stand in Tasmania and say you go for a drive, you say five or six cars on your trip with our sticker. So here's what that sticker represents to change the way you view mental health, but not so easy when I'm over in Sydney and probably most of you in the room have not heard of our organisation. But these five things are what I believe if we implement it as part of our life. We can create change for. We always have to remember that conversations matter. We need to remember that listening saves lives, get help when you need it, when you're going through a difficult time. Kindness is, something I'm a huge advocate advocate for within sporting clubs. And I mean, what Beau had to say before I get up, he speaks to me and speaks to what we're all about. Kindness is everything and makes one hell of a difference within sporting clubs, school groups, communities, et cetera.

The last one here is a slogan that gets thrown around a lot and I like to think I had a big hand in that I came up with it. Not long after creating the sticker, it's okay to not be okay. And there's a thing that drives me every day when spreading this message and encouraging change. And that is the last interaction I ever had with my little brother. And it speaks so loudly to me when it comes to it's okay to not be okay. The night before my little brother passed away, I went into his bedroom to say good night. I used to always brush my teeth at home, do the rounds, say good night to everyone and go down to my dungeon, my room and go to bed for the night. And I'll never forget walking into my little brother's room on the Sunday night. And I busted my way and he was playing on his phone. And I shouted at him and I said, Tig good night, I'll see you tomorrow. And he didn't answer me the first time. So I went in a little closer. I think I kicked the door a bit louder and I said, Tig good night, I'll see you tomorrow. Eventually he just lifted his head. He half looked at me and he really quietly mumbled the word 'night'. And then he put his head down again. I pulled the door shut. I went to bed, and I never, ever saw my little brother again.

For me, I think of two things in that moment. I'll never forget his face. He was pale face. He had tears in his eyes. And he was someone lying there with a lot going on in here and in here. And I know he would've been lying there praying that he had the confidence and the courage to call me in and tell me what was going on. But he didn't. But he also would have been lying there praying that his big brother, who he aspired to be funny enough, had the courage also to sit with him and wrap my arm around him and encourage him to know that if he's struggling, that's okay. And then I can help him get through that difficult time by just having a conversation. So it's okay to not be okay. Rings in my eyes every single moment. And I hope that that and those are four you can take back to your club to create some serious change around mental health. That is a challenge. I'm sure a lot in the room today are focusing on mental health and it might not be our Stay Chatty sports program that you implement.

And I hope that in years to come, it is a national program that people take under their wing and implement as part of your organization. But if you're not already, I urge you to bring mental health into that, into the topic and into the community that you're working, because like me, I would give absolutely anything. Whilst I'm proud of what I do now and the movement that we're making in Tasmania and around the country. I would absolutely give anything to go back to playing under 15s footy, to sit there and have someone who's 32 like me stand in front of me and tell me how shit suicide is, because I would have got up and I would have made a difference.

And I strongly believe that I would have my little brother here with me for the remainder of my life. Thank you so much.