Rising from adversity: Overcoming mental health struggles

[TW: Suicide]

10 September marks World Suicide Prevention Day, a day that brings countries around the world together to promote stigma reduction and honour the memories of those lost to suicide, those who have survived suicide attempts, and those who bear the weight of grief.

We chatted with Top Blokes Youth Worker Reece Anderson, whose journey from athlete to advocate is an inspiring tale of triumph over mental health challenges.

Reece is one of nearly 10 million Australians who have been affected by suicide. This October, he will take on the Lift the Load Challenge for a second year. His personal story is a testament to the power of seeking help, breaking stigma, and lifting others up.

A promising start in athletics

In his teenage years, Reece was a force to be reckoned with on the field. His passion for sports was unwavering, and he was a proud member of his local running club.

“Sport gave me a sense of purpose, connected me to my local community”

A heartbreaking turn of events

Tragedy struck when Reece was just 16 years old. Two fellow athletes from his running club succumbed to heart attacks right before his eyes. The sight of the ambulance and the weight of the families’ grief left a mark on his Reece.

“I remember seeing the ambulance and the family grieving. After that, every time my heart rate went up, I thought I was having a heart attack. I’d panic every time I heard an ambulance siren.”

The aftermath of this traumatic experience took a toll on Reece’s mental and physical health. He developed coping mechanisms that ranged from swallowing difficulties to involuntary tics.

The activities that once brought him joy, like playing sports, triggered his distress. The world was now a battlefield of anxiety and uncertainty.

Top Blokes Youth Worker Reece as part of Ahead of the Game AFL

Reece pictured left as part of AFL’s Ahead of the Game

The masks we wear

Despite his internal turmoil, Reece masked his struggles with a façade of normality. He turned to partying and excessive drinking as a means of escape. This escape, however, led to self-sabotage and fractured relationships. To keep himself busy, he delved into work, clocking in 60-70 hours per week.

“Work became a distraction from everything I was dealing with mentally.”

In a world where discussions around mental health were still in their infancy, Reece internalised the stigma and refrained from seeking help. The culture of silence prevailed, and he, like many others, battled his demons in isolation.

“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t confront it. I grew up when mental health wasn’t spoken about. It wasn’t the culture to seek help.”

The turning point and the journey to healing

A pivotal moment arose when Reece was 25 years old. On the brink of burning out completely, he faced a moment of reckoning. A friend intervened, recognising the signs of his struggle. A six-hour conversation became a lifeline, leading him to seek support or face the consequences. This intervention saved his life.

“He sat down and spent six hours with me, talking and listening. He eventually gave me a choice – I’d go to my parents’ house or he’d call the police.”

Summoning his courage, Reece revealed his battle to his parents, who responded with unwavering love and support. With newfound determination, he embarked on a journey of healing, seeking the treatment he deserved.

Reece takes Top Blokes grads to an NRL game

Reece left takes Top Blokes grads to an NRL game

A path to empowerment and advocacy

Reece emerged from the depths of his mental health struggle with a renewed purpose. Armed with his experiences, he now dedicates his life to destigmatising mental health and supporting young men through the Top Blokes program. He’s become an advocate and mentor to those who navigate similar challenges.

His story underscores the importance of open conversations around mental health and seeking help when needed. Reece’s resilience and dedication inspire all of us to ‘Lift the Load,’ not only for ourselves but for those around us.

Reflecting on his journey, Reece believes that had he received mentorship and conversations about mental health during his own youth, his trajectory might have been different.

“I finally sought the treatment I needed. Now, my work is to talk about mental health. To think, if I had the mentoring and the talks about mental health when I was growing up, I’d probably be on track to becoming a kickass sportsperson.”

Through Reece’s triumph over adversity, he has rewritten his narrative and turned his pain into purpose to help support others.

This year Reece is walking 100km in one day to try and raise $5000 for Top Blokes. You can support Reece by making a donation. Or if you’d like to join Reece on part of his walk scheduled for 26 October, please reach out at community@topbokes.org.au.

Thank you to Reece for sharing his story. If you have any concerns, support is always available:

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800