Matthew Mitcham & The Key To Kicking Depression: 'I learned what self-esteem actually is'
Matthew Mitcham is an Olympic diving champion. He received the highest single-dive score in Olympic history and in 2008, he was the first Australian male to win an Olympic Gold medal since 1924. At the top of his game, he also battled crippling depression, which ultimately lead to addiction.
Mental illness can touch anybody, from all walks of life. It doesn't matter how many Instagram followers you have or how much money's in the bank. According to Headspace, "One in four young people have experienced a mental health issue in the past 12 months – a higher prevalence than all other age groups."
As a Headspace Ambassador, Matthew Mitcham is well equipped to talk about young people and mental illness. Before he was 18, he was self-harming, binge drinking and abusing drugs, self-medicating a deep depression.
"I've always been pretty open about my story, pretty candid about my history with depression and my recover as well," he told us. "I'm a massive advocate for sharing your story."
"I think reaching out should be a first resort and not a last resort, because that's what kept me in the closet about my mental illnesses for quite longer than I needed to be. Just because I had too much shame to seek help."
For years though, Mitcham kept his "profound depression" to himself "at all costs", bearing incredible shame from not fully understanding why he was feeling this way.
"Even if you have the world at your feet, you can still suffer," He said. "I found myself falling into that group. I had no reason to feel the way that I did, that compounded the depression that way."
It took "massive life changes" at 18 to finally turn his life around for the better. He moved to Sydney (originally a Brisbane boy), retired from diving with no intention to return, met someone and finally “got comfortable with being gay.” The fresh start was going well until a relapse hit just after the Beijing Olympics.
"I never addressed the underlying causes of my problem, I never actually sought treatment," he admitted. Which is why he's such a strong supporter of Headspace's Access All Areas campaign.
Now five years into his recovery, Matthew has a new outlook on depression and addiction.
"I know now that there’s no point drinking or using over feelings because feelings pass faster than hangovers or come downs do. I know that drugs and alcohol don’t actually solve problems; they just postpone them and compound them. I didn’t realise how bad my self esteem was, my self esteem was so reliant on everything around me."
"So the only way I could feel good about myself is getting feedback from other people. Look at scores from judges or comments on my social media."
The key to kicking his depression once and for all was learning what self-esteem is, "and how to grow self esteem so that all of that external stuff is just a bonus."
"Even if that external stuff is taken away, I’m still secure enough and happy enough as a person that I don’t need that stuff."
With his caberet show, which has a strong mental health theme, Matthew's continuing to make people feel comfortable enough to talk about their own experiences.
"After the show people come up to me, and they just share with me because I have shared with them."
"I’ve started a conversation and they now feel like they have a permission to respond or share with me because I’ve shared my vulnerability. Sometimes I’m the first person they share with what’s going on with them. It is such a powerful thing and that’s why I’m such an advocate for sharing."
National Headspace Day is a day of awareness aimed at ensuring every young person in Australia has access to mental health services, no matter where they live. Reaching out, speaking to people, starting the conversation is something Matthew had an issue doing because of the "macho sporting environment" he felt apart of. An environment where he saw mental illness as a "weakness", especially in competitive elite sport. Today we encourage people to check in on a friend, approach a Headspace facility or talk about how your feeling, no matter how big or small the issue.