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Men’s Mental Health: A patient’s perspective with Dr. Michelle Woolhouse and Nick Bracks

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Men’s Mental Health: A patient’s perspective with Dr. Michelle Woolhouse and Nick Bracks

According to Beyond Blue, on average, one in eight men will experience depression and one in five men will experience anxiety at some stage of their lives. As we move into November, we are taking some time to focus on Men's Mental Health.

In this week’s new episode, men's mental health advocate Nick Bracks shares his journey of depression, addiction, and obsessive tendencies from the perspective of a patient with our Ambassador Dr. Michelle Woolhouse. Together they discuss how certain behaviours can be masking men’s mental health – particularly anxiety and depression. They talk of the importance of taking micro-steps, meeting patients where they’re at, and the impacts of cultural and societal expectations on boys, teenagers and men, who are often raised to avoid exploration and expression of deep feelings.  

Nick shares the steps he took that helped him find balance again in his own life, as well as advice both for men experiencing mental health challenges and the practitioners who support them to create a blueprint for long-term positive mental health that can help men navigate their journey from depression to dynamism and vitality. 

Covered in this episode

[00:48] Welcoming Nick Bracks
[02:32] Why Nick is so passionate about mental health
[03:56] Some ways depression and anxiety can present in men
[07:46] Getting help and the power of micro steps
[11:15] Changing the cultural narrative and societal expectations
[13:22] How can we get men to seek help
[18:27] How practitioners can help
[22:37] Experiencing setbacks
[28:04] Exercise and lifestyle medicine in Nick’s recovery
[31:13] The impact of diet
[32:42] Identifying obsessions and striking balance
[35:01] Nick’s advice to help in recovery
[37:08] Helpful perspectives for practitioners
[39:22] Thanking Nick and final remarks

Key takeaways

  • Turn the tables on anxiety and think of it like a thinking error, rather than a condition. 
  • Depression in men can be masked by behaviours such as: 
    • Risk taking 
    • Alcohol, drug use 
    • Workaholism 
    • Anger  
    • Obsessive behaviours  
  • Recognise that the first steps, a.k.a. micro steps, are always the hardest. No matter the size, micro-steps are the catalyst to a healthier mental state. 
  • Meet men where they’re at: give them time to open up, connect, listen, talk in stories. 
  • Creating a blueprint for long-term change includes identifying what a patient feels they are able to do, and out of those things what is the highest priority to focus on.  
  • Balance is the key. Focus on diet, exercise, work, social connection, nature, relationships, hobbies and passion projects. 

Resources discussed and further reading

Nick Bracks

Website: Nick Bracks
Nick's book: Move Your Mind: How to Build a Healthy Mindset

Men's Mental Health 

Tomorrow Man
Speak Share
Research: 'Young Men, Help-Seeking, and Mental Health Services: Exploring Barriers and Solutions.' (American Journal of Men’s Health, 2018)
Research: 'Suicide trends among Australian construction workers during years 2001–2019' (Sci Rep., 2022)
fx Medicine Podcast: The Mental Health Crisis: Promoting Wellbeing for Our Patients and Ourselves 
fx Medicine Article: Curcumin - Mechanisms of action in depression 
fx Medicine Article: Men's Social Stress Linked to Decreased Life Expectancy
fx Medicine Article: The Health Implications of Alcohol Consumption


Michelle: Welcome to fx Medicine, bringing you the latest in evidence-based, integrative, functional, and complementary medicine. I'm Dr. Michelle Woolhouse. 

fx Medicine acknowledges the traditional custodians of country throughout Australia, where we live and work, and their connections to land, sea, and community. We pay our respects to the elders, past and present, and extend this respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, today.

One of the most important tenets of practice is to meet a patient where they are at. But in a busy practice, this doesn't always happen as planned. So, today, we are going to turn the tables away from the professorial input and researchers, and focus our attention on the patient's perspective. Hearing from patients at their most vulnerable times is so important for practitioners to review our own perspectives and to help us see our blind spots, and most importantly, find the humbleness required to honour the whole person.

Today, I have a very special guest, Nick Bracks. Nick is a mental health advocate, actor, athlete, and podcaster who is on a mission to reduce the stigma of mental health and bring it into the conversation of the everyday. We are going to chat about what helped him the most, how community and support helped him find a better way. And we're also going to delve into some of the idiosyncrasies of men's mental health and how it can present differently to women and how we can support boys and men during these vulnerable times. 

Welcome to the show, Nick.

Nick: Thank you so much, Michelle. I'm super excited to have this chat with you.

Michelle: So, you talk a lot about mental health, especially its impact in men. What happened for you and why has this become such an important topic for you?

Nick: So, there's a long story, but in short, I had issues with anxiety, compulsive thinking, and a whole range of things like that from a very young age that I didn't know how to deal with, and I didn't really have the knowledge or support around me to deal with that. And it manifested into a whole range of issues when I finished at high school, and I was off the rails for a long time. 

And it was when I finally made a recovery from that process and started to get my life back on track that I just became so passionate about trying to help other people to get these messages that I didn't hear earlier. And I was just seeing firsthand how huge of a lack of education was out there and preventative support especially became something I was passionate about.

Michelle: I was recently reading actually about...well, often we define anxiety, for example, as a psychological issue, but in many ways, it's a thinking error. Sometimes we think incorrectly, and that's why we get this anxiety. And so, rather than kind of putting it into a disease basket, if we can think about it differently, it can radically change the trajectory of the experience for people.

There’s a lot of support popping up with a particular focus on mental health, which is really great and overdue. I was preparing for this podcast and looking at MensLine, which is a fantastic resource. And now, Movember are entering this space and training up counsellors to really particularly focus on men. And there's Tomorrow Man, and another one's called Speak Share, and all these really kind of grass-roots organisations popping up, which is great.

And what I like about that is that it shines a particular light of how men present because their depression or their anxiety can be masked somewhat by risk-taking, or alcohol, or drug use, or workaholism, or anger. What were the ways your mental health issues presented and were you blind to some of them? You mentioned being off the rails, can you tell us a little bit about that presentation from a clinical perspective?

Nick: Yeah, and the biggest one for me, similar to some of those you mentioned there, was alcohol and a lot of that risk-taking behaviour. And I guess when I eventually connected the dots, I was able to see that it was always using extreme behaviour to cope.

So, at a very young age, from sort of the age of 11 until 16 or 17, I was obsessed with originally playing AFL and then became so fit through how hard I trained that I would win the middle distance running races and that became the new obsession. And I was at one point getting up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning hiding bricks under my bed, training for three hours before school, tripling what my coach gave me to do, and just doing a level of training that made no sense, but was just a way for me to feel in control. And then when that all finished and I was injured and dropped out of university for a period, I discovered alcohol. And that became really the coping mechanism.

So, binge drinking and just using it as pure escapism and it got completely out of control. So, it wasn't until that really hit a climax that I started to take very small steps to get the help that I needed. But it was a long process.

Michelle: That's so interesting. For you, high achieving and striving and fitness, which really on the outskirts is like, "Oh, fantastic. Go, Nick." Really pushing kind of those barriers, which I think is really interesting because I see that quite a lot in practice is, we have these kind of sanctioned ways that we do life, which is all about striving and being the best. And you certainly was doing that, but in fact, that was kind of part of the mask.

Nick: Yeah. That was a huge part of the mask and still something that I have to manage on a daily basis. And I think so many of us do really because we live in a society that teaches us that we need to do more, we need to make more money, we need to strive for the next thing. And social media and technology has elevated that on a multiple of thousands, and it's out of control. 

And I think unless you can do the work on yourself and really learn how to tap into your own intuition and listen to your gut and really make decisions based on what are healthy for you and what you truly want going to on some level be sucked into that. And for me it was really elevated from growing up with a well-known father and from the age of 12 till my early 20s, he was the premier of Victoria. And I guess being known as the son of this person just added extra fuel to that where...

Michelle: Absolutely.

Nick: ...I was just out there, on a mission. How do I do something so extreme that I can become known as Nick Bracks, not the son of Steve Bracks.

Michelle: Absolutely. And it's so interesting the kind of structure we kind of get born into.

You mentioned, you made these really micro steps, which I think is really important from just sort of turning a vicious cycle around is these kind of micro steps are almost like they're the smallest, but they're the hardest, but they're the most profound. What was those kind of first few steps that you took to really turn the tide?

Nick: And I couldn't agree more that they are the hardest because I think when something's not familiar, we look at the bigger picture and get overwhelmed. And so for me, the very first step was just getting professional help. And I'd gotten to a point where I, like I had said before, I dropped out, I deferred from taking a gap year, come back, I had dropped out of university, had stopped working and was just drinking three, four nights a week, sort of obliterating myself and could barely get out of bed.

So, eventually, I couldn't hide it from people anymore, and my mom dragged me to get help and that was the very first step. And then I started learning, hearing what I was going through and was hearing stories about other people and being told that there was actually, that this wasn't something that was uncommon and there were practical ways to deal with it. And it was just really for me just taking, literally putting one foot in front of the other. So, not even trying to find the best step. It was more about, "I need to just do something.”

So, I got into another course at university, and then it was just about, "Okay, I need to turn up for the first day. I need to now get through this first day”. And then just literally doing it in that way. And it's hard not to, like I was saying, in anything in life, if we're trying to start exercising often, we won't stick to it because we are thinking too far ahead rather than looking at “How do I just make that daily habit?”

So, it’s one of the biggest parts of the work I do is talking about creating habits and routines and all that sort of thing, but it was really difficult for me at the time. But taking those micro steps started to compound, and started to get momentum and it built on itself and just taught me the most important life lesson that I've ever learned.

Michelle: Which is?

Nick: Well, which is just taking that first step. Yeah. If I...

Michelle: Yeah.

Nick: ...if I try and summarise that, I'd say it's about just forgetting about outcomes, forgetting about everything else, and just focusing on the process and just putting one foot in front of the other. So, really just breaking things down into, "Okay, what am I going to do today? How can I actually create this new habit? How can I stick to whatever this new behaviour is?" And just drilling it down and not thinking too far ahead. And I think for me, it's been the most important lesson because my mind automatically thinks too far ahead. And I want to do a million things at once and want to take over the world. And it was the only way I could sort of find a blueprint that would work for me otherwise things sort of got out of control.

Michelle: Oh, I think that's just so profound. I have to just call it out because even I'm a bit like you. I want to do a million things at once. But I want to kind of call out actually how profound that is for somebody who is a striver and who has that internal mechanism or did have that internal mechanism for so much internal pressure, about really bringing that back to those kind of micro steps and really focusing on that day-by-day processes. It really is a profound message that you're sharing.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the cultural narrative is starting to be discussed for boys and for teens and adolescents and young men and older men, and there's this cultural narrative that “Boys don't cry, toughen up, stop being a wuss.”

And certainly, we've been challenging that over the last couple of decades, but it's still very much prevalent in the schoolyard, in the sports clubs, and even in the homes, and the workplaces. So, despite some of this great work being done in this space, how big a problem do you think this is? And do you see the conversations changing?

Nick: I think it's still a gigantic problem. And I think it's especially like you're talking about when it comes to men, I think it is fantastic that there's much more of a conversation about it. And that's progressed over the last 5 -10 years. COVID has made it more talked about than ever, and there couldn't be more awareness, which is great. 

But I think when you really drill down, there are still severe problems. And you see it every day. I see it in schools when I've talked in schools. We're doing a lot of work with my company in the construction industry that's male-dominated, and it's horrific. I could tell you countless stories that I've heard in there that are just shocking and I can't remember the exact statistic, but it's something like, they're six times more likely to die from suicide than...

Michelle: Yeah. I've heard that.

Nick: ...an accident at work and shocking mental health problems. And I think, it really comes back to what I said at the beginning. I think that there's a lot of awareness, but there's not enough proper preventative support to really help people. And I think that's a societal issue and governments need to do more. And I think we like to put a bandaid on things and we need to put a bandaid on things, but I think we also need to really take more steps backwards and look at, "Okay, how do we actually get to the core of this? How do we do things that aren't going to pay off right now, but are going to actually equip people with the skills to, in the future, make better decisions and make it more sustainable that way?" And so, I think there's a long way to go.

Michelle: With this research that I was looking at, that was really focusing on what is the trigger for men to get help, and I noticed when you were talking, it was like, "My mum took me to this appointment” kind of thing. And it's often the women in men's lives that tend to kind of push them into...I know in my general practice, it was like, "Well, I don't know why I'm here. My wife made the appointment for me." I mean, I've heard that, and I'm sure loads of practitioners listening have heard that same thing. 

In your opinion in the work that you do and speaking on the ground, how do we get men to seek the help that they need, even at a preventative level, even if they're feeling slightly anxious or increased pressure. Have you got any ideas there?

Nick: It's a really good question, and it's such a difficult one. And I think you're right there with, it'll normally be if they're pushed from their partner or for me, my mum, or different situations like that. I mean, the main thing I've been doing in this area for over 12 years now is just sharing my story and going and talking to groups of people and sharing other stories. And what I've seen from that is, it's pretty obvious and logical I guess, but people...I think it's the most powerful thing, just being able to have people become more open about sharing stories.

And if there's a man who another man can relate to and they're hearing a story and seeing them dispel an image that they had and seeing behind the curtain that this person actually went through all these different things and they've been through a similar thing, it automatically gives them permission to realise, "Oh, I'm not alone. There's nothing unique about what I'm going through. This is actually quite normal, and maybe it's okay for me to get help as well." So, I think storytelling is incredibly powerful and probably the strongest way to do it, but it's not a simple thing to change.

Michelle: Yeah. No, I agree with you. I mean, I think our stories can empower us or they can disempower us, and speaking about them certainly helps to kind of reshape them in many ways, particularly when we share. 

So, what is the feedback that you've had from some of your participants that listen to you?

Nick: It's been mostly positive feedback. I used to do, I don't do so many now, but I used to do a lot in schools. And the biggest thing that I found was, I would go and speak to these schools and it would sort of be hit and miss. Sometimes you might have a lot of them asking questions and speaking at the end, sometimes, not so many.

So, it was hard to gauge, “Okay, how much impact has this actually had?” but almost every time I spoke in schools, and this was to sort of your 10 students to 12 students and ones that could relate to my story, and I think saw it as something rather than having an older person come in, I was closer to their age at the time, and almost every time I'd hear back from one of the teachers there that one of the kids had on the back of that gone and asked for help and made that change and that sort of thing.

So, it sort of really, I guess, reinforced to me the importance of that. And then on the other side in companies, like I was saying before there's sort of too many stories to tell, but particularly in construction, the most powerful one I had was, we were doing a series of talks for a construction company that had sites all over Australia in these factory settings. And it was a Friday afternoon, I was delivering this talk and we'd done a whole number of them and this was one of the final ones. And at the end of it, one of the leaders in that company who everyone actually looked up to and lent on for support, and no one would've thought he had any sort of mental health-related issues. He came up to myself and the HR manager and revealed that he had an active plan to end his life on that weekend. And he'd been suffering in silence for 20-plus years. And not that I did anything miraculous, it was more just that the timing was right. And he heard this message and something clicked and he spoke about it. And then as he was talking about it, and the HR person spoke to him and helped him get the help, he realised very quickly how crazy the thought was and was able to get rehabilitated. And just, I guess a lot of that just highlighted that I think it's about in society, it's do we need to try and become more open and honest and we're conditioned to do the opposite, more than ever?

Michelle: Oh, absolutely. And I've got goosebumps listening to that story because when I listen to that, I just think, "God, human beings are just so beautiful." When we really can speak honestly and truthfully, and it just builds trust and integrity. And I think sometimes practitioners as well, when the practitioners listening to that, like the power of sharing our stories and also listening deeply is such a profound gift that I think that we forget when we've got somebody sitting in front of us.

How can a practitioner help to break down some of that stigma when you've got somebody that's a bit resistant, like that guy you were talking about? He was a good masker, he was a great actor, he'd kind of almost fooled himself and fooled everyone else, but if you could put yourself in the shoes, given what you know, if he saw a practitioner a couple of weeks before, how could they break down that mask?

Nick: I think it just comes down to trying to really connect with the person and regardless of whether it's in that setting as a practitioner or as a friend meeting as a coffee, I think whatever it is, people just want to be talked to as a normal human being and be heard and be listened to. And I think just trying to provide that environment where they really, they feel comfortable, they're not pushed to have to reveal anything more just trying to just find ways to connect and show them that you're really actually hearing them, and that you're on that level, and treating people like a human.

And I guess it's sort of, again, in those settings, especially in these factory settings where I've been in ones with people that have been there for 30 plus years and I would walk in and they're looking at me thinking, "Who the hell does this kid think he is for telling us about mental health? We know what proper suffering is,” and you're almost terrified, intimidated, like, "What the hell? How's this going to go?" And I'd always try and be self-deprecating and find some sort of way to meet them on their level and cut through. And then as soon as that happened, then they really opened up and they would come and chat to me after and hang out. 
And that's what I found, how can you just meet someone where they're at and try and really take the time to observe them and listen to what they're actually going through, or where they're at in life and approach it in that way.

Michelle: And I think back to my own observations of treating men over the last 25 years or so, is they actually require a lot of time, because they'll often come to a practitioner and they're masked up. They're used to having the bravado and they're used to not really talking about their emotions as much or not even knowing that they're something worthy of talking about. But then with the beauty of time, and as you kind of mentioned that kind of connecting where they're at and having, I guess not so much the courage, but the willingness to actually ask them directly about it, all of a sudden, you’ve got this incredible almost human heart on a platter. I find it very easy for men sometimes to open up, given enough space. And it's that spaciousness that you talk about, like through sharing stories and a bit slower time as well, really helps I think, in the clinical space too.

Nick: Absolutely. And I think, it's also what I see as a problem with society where everything is so fast. There's just not enough time in the day to do everything. And a lot of people want to get the help, and then they'll try and make the time and they might not have enough money to commit to it or they might try and see a psychologist and not connect, and then they have to go through the process all over again. And even within that, everything so fast-paced that it can be really difficult. So, I think that’s one of the big problems. It's just not having the space and time in everything that comes with day-to-day life to be able to, in a very calm, measured way, deal with these. Take these necessary steps because like you're saying, it's not ticking a box. It's a lifelong process and we can't do that if we're not having the sort of that gentleness and space to do it.

Michelle: And I think too, for men, often with mental health for example, they'll often feel like, if they open the box, they're going to unravel. It's like, if we share it, it becomes like a raging river. And so, that's the other important reason for this incredible timing that is required.

In your experience, in that early days when your mum made that first appointment that critical kind of moment, did you have sometimes where you didn't connect with practitioners or that you kind of got really resistant and pulled back? Was there times where you felt like you went backwards and what happened?

Nick: Oh, yeah, for sure. Multiple times where I went backwards and I mean, I think I've probably seen more psychologists than I can count. I can't even remember how many it would be, but there were so many that I was going through and I was incredibly shy at the time and found it really difficult to open up. And even after going through this huge period of time where it was clear there was a severe problem, I still felt a lot of shame and embarrassment that as a man, I was going through these issues. And it took me a while to feel okay with that and to build my self-esteem and confidence back up and find who I was.

But I guess on reflection, it was definitely an up-and-down process and something that probably couldn't have moved any quicker. But if I could go back now, it would be probably approaching it in a similar way, but reminding myself that, it is, again, going back to what I said earlier, just taking that one step at a time and like anything in life if we're trying to learn a new skill or we've got a new job or whatever we're doing, it's going to be up and down. There's going to be sometimes taking that step backwards to move a few more steps forward and that whole process.

And I think it's just really having people understand it, that we're we're afraid of things we don't know and that we haven't done before. And that goes for anything. And a lot of men haven't been taught to express themselves, to show emotion, to talk about that. And they've been taught that that's something that makes them less of a man. And it's not until you sort of approach that fear that you realise how crazy that concept is. So, it was just really taking those steps and giving it time.

Michelle: And it's not just for the men too, I think it's a really good message for women. Because the other kind of side of that is that, women often feel uncomfortable when men express their emotions sometimes too. So, you know, we talk about that kind of almost emotional muscle. Women have to kind of exercise that spaciousness to really listen to men's emotions, as well. And I think that's a really profound kind of shift of having that emotional muscle and building it.

We never go to the gym the first time we sign up to the gym membership and expect to be able to bench press 60 kilos. I don't even know if that's reasonable. But we start off and we know that our bicep curls we're going to be on the five-kilo weights and then six and then seven. So, we build slowly, we know that. But for mindset, it's so difficult because we give up. So, not necessarily so easily, but the setbacks feel so difficult.

Nick: Yeah. No, I love that point you're making there. And I think people give up not because they're not motivated, but because it's not tangible, a lot of this. And when it comes to creating that mindset, we need a blueprint. So, if it was exercise, we sort of know that “Okay, well, if I do something physical, if I improve my diet, if I get up and I go to the gym or go for a run or go for a walk, it's going to likely equal a tangible result where I can see myself shredding weight,” or whatever you're trying to do. And you also sort of know that, if I do all of those things and just stop, I'm probably not going to be able to maintain the same results that I got from doing it. 

But when it comes to this side of things, people don't know where to begin. So, it's overwhelming. What do I do? It's all intangible. What do I actually do on a daily basis? So, I’m sort of a big believer in, let's break it down and let's look at what you actually can do and let's list those things. And then out of those things, let's then break it down further to what are the most important things that you actually want to work on right now? And then of those, let's break it down to just one thing. And even if there are more than that, let's just focus on that for now. And let's do it daily until it becomes a habit and something that becomes automatic. And then from there, you'll almost organically fall into the process of doing the next thing and it'll compound on each other. And I think it's just so critical that people have that guidance to make those sort of steps.

Michelle: It's a real coaching kind of mindset as well, which I think practitioners can, you know, back 20 years ago, it was often about seeing a patient and helping them and fixing them and then they go. These days, a lot more kind of coaching, particularly because mental health is so real and giving them that blueprint because we don't see the mental changes. 

But I often teach people how to see it in their lives. Are they laughing more? Have they got more energy? Are their relationships better? Are they happier?  Really subtle ways in which you can create very subtle measurements. It's like, "Oh, right, yeah. I did actually laugh at that. Or I did enjoy that catch-up with that friend.” So, we're sort of always auditing our mental health in some ways, particularly if you're coming from a low base if you are suffering or particularly you're stressed, or struggling.

Nick: Absolutely. I love those examples.

Michelle: So, lifestyle medicine was foundational for you. I mean, you already had the fitness thing going. I think when somebody's kind of got that high achieving fitness, you would've had to kind of taper that back to a much more sustainable and I guess healthy kind of goal. 

But what about things like the body-mind, how important was things like dietary change and looking after other aspects of health, sleep? Obviously, alcohol was a big issue and there might've been other risk-taking things as well. What changes did you make with that and were there issues of motivation with regards to that?

Nick: Absolutely. And I think, again, it's sort of a never-ending process and something that I'm still learning how to constantly evaluate things that are happening in my life and improve them. At the beginning, for probably my whole life, exercise has been one of the biggest things in probably the biggest part of my life. And that was the first thing that I really incorporated when I was working through it. It was just getting back into daily exercise and I think it's profound how much it helped me and helped so many people. 

So, that was the biggest. I was still actually even as I was recovering and getting things back on track, still was drinking and going out and partying and doing those things for quite a while. So, I think it took me a little while until I got other things happening and found my feet again to sort of taper that down. And for me, it was really about finding what I was actually passionate about doing once I got clear enough, and that ended up being the mental health work organically after being on a reality television show, getting asked to share my story and being lucky enough to be asked to go and speak in the media and in schools and all that sort of thing. And that gave me the guidance to then take the next step and start, I guess, looking after myself more. 

And in more recent times, it's been quitting drinking completely and then really monitoring things and looking at, "Okay, actually, my sleeping patterns are all over the place." And observing my mood on a given day and realising, "Oh, when I had six hours instead of seven hours of sleep, I am more grumpy, I'm more anxious, I'm more agitated.” And that's more come in recent years where it's been things are moving in the right direction and on top of a lot of these things. But becoming, I guess, more self-aware and more interested in just really trying to observe these little things that we often don't question, might just accept that we're angry that day or we don't really try and break it down. "Hang on, is it because I haven't eaten enough food or haven't had enough sleep or whatever's going on."

Michelle: It's that beautiful audit sort of scenario of kind of our...I'll often talk to people to distil what's going on for them so that they can kind of have a clearer, I guess, avenue to support themselves. So, sleep and stress, but what is the stress? What is creating… Is it thinking patterns? Is it inner critic stuff? Is it relationships? Etc. So, they've got more empowerment in which to kind of deal with what might be going on.

With diet, did you do any particular type of diet or did you remove...I mean, we talked about alcohol. What about things like sugar and caffeine or did you do any alternative or complementary medicines and did you find them helpful?

Nick: I didn't actually. I've always eaten relatively well and I think coming from the background of being an athlete, it was always important to eat quite a healthy diet. So, for me, it was more about balance where I'll be exercising, eating well, allowing myself still to eat some junk food or have days where I can have cheat meals and things like that. 

But yeah, I guess, it was just about balance for me and looking at it more holistically in, "Am I eating well? Am I exercising? Am I keeping balance in my work? And having time out and being with friends, getting out in nature?" Keeping that balance because my mind has that tendency to overcompensate and obsess and go all in on something at the expense of other areas.

But as you're saying there diet, we're learning more than ever the link between diet and mental health and gut health and mental health and it is something that can make a huge difference.

Michelle: Well, the Australian New Zealand College of Psychiatrists updated their first-line therapy to be lifestyle medicine, which is quite a profound shift given where it's kind of come from in the last sort of couple of decades, or half century or so, which is really exciting. 

But it sounds for you, it's really important to kind of individualise the response because I guess, with obsessive people, if I had seen you, I would've said, "Oh, do you exercise?" "Yeah. I exercise three hours every morning and I eat a really good diet…" You would've been doing quite a lot of those really good things. And so, as a practitioner, I might have missed it. In the sense of really asking you, "Wow. It sounds like a lot." There's really obsessional kind of aspect to you that may be creating pressure and stress and anxiety and therefore depression and those kind of things. 

So, for you, that word balance is so important because you had some very helpful things kind of going on that sometimes we need to get people to exercise and look after their diet, and some people we need to do less of, which sounds like something that you needed to look at.

Nick: And it's such a good point because I mean, on so many levels, workaholics, we praise that...

Michelle: They aspire.

Nick: ...and we've got these...

Michelle: We praise them.

Nick: And I think, a lot of the time they're not necessarily aware of what they're compensating for because they just haven't had the time to do that work on themselves. But it almost always comes to a climax. Either they'll get burnt out or it might be someone doing a startup and they spend 20 years trying to turn it into a multi-million dollar company. They sell it, they get their payout, and that was meant to be the thing that made them happy and the gold at the end of the rainbow. And then they end up in a deep depression because they still realise they're the same person. They still have to look themselves in the mirror every day. They still have to deal with their thoughts and it's not the solution. So, yeah, huge believer in finding that balance.

Michelle: That's right.

Nick: Oh, yeah.

Michelle: And relationships as well. When you have that obsessional kind of mindset too, it's like yeah, it impacts relationship because there needs to be some room for that. If all the room is for obsessional thinking or striving or perfectionism or more, more, more, more, then there's less room for the slow time, the peacetime, the waxing lyrical, where the creativity and the sort of poetry of life can come through. 

I wanted to ask you, Nick, what your top three pieces of advice are that helped you in your recovery. If you could talk to you and say, "Yeah. I reckon they're my top three." What would you say?

Nick: That's a great question. The top three, I would say, number one, would be just finally admitting that I needed help and becoming open about that. And I remember when I first told my best friend at the time what I had been going through and I hadn't told anyone. I'd only just started seeing the psychologist and I was terrified and thought she would never look at me in the same way. And it was the opposite.

So, I think just it was such a relief and it then just took this huge weight off my shoulders and allowed me to start taking more steps. So, just accepting it, talking about it, being open about it, and then having unconditional relationships around you. So, I think as a byproduct of doing that first step, then being able to whether it's your family, one of your best friends, a colleague, whoever it is, if you don't have it nurture, how can I find these kind of people that can support me and that I can support?

And really having that there as a clutch because it's so important that we do see a professional that we do all these different things. But that professional that might be at most normally a one-hour session a week, if that. So, who are you talking to? What are you doing in between? Who's keeping you accountable? What steps are you taking? So, I think having that and then like I said at the beginning, just actually taking the steps, putting that one foot in front of the other, creating new habits and just getting momentum through doing that and by taking the steps, seeing how much of an impact it made and then that sort of compounding on itself.

Michelle: And what I love about listening to your story is once you did all that, then the passion, it was almost like that real sort of core of essence and inspiration kind of came through you. And I love that fact that it's that accountability and those new habits are such an important thing.

Okay. So, I'm going to give you another imaginary stage because I know that you're pretty comfy on the stage. And I'm going to put together 1000 naturopaths, 1000 doctors, 750 nutritionists, and 1000 psychologists. I don't know, why there's less nutritionists, but I'm going to give you the opportunity to tell them from your heart what you need from them as a sufferer of depression and anxiety. What would you like to say to them?

Nick: That's a great question. That's a difficult one. But I would say, first of all, anyone in any of those fields, they're doing invaluable work that is critical and I've taken an avenue of advocacy. I'm not a professional and I think we absolutely we need as much of that as we can. 

But the one thing I would say within that is, and just from my own personal experience is, how can we try and really listen to the individual that we're talking to and try and help them come out with something practical, even if it's a small change that they can actually stick to. Because I think a lot of the time we get given great information, especially seeing psychologists. I found this where I would talk to them. I would have all of this information that I understood, I knew what they were talking about and what I needed to do, but there wasn't enough practical steps coming out of it. So, I didn't really know what to do after that. Or if I was given information, it was overwhelming and I just couldn't make the time to do it. 

So, how can I work with you guys within my lifestyle and we've all got different capacities or different levels of willingness to take on new initiatives. So, within what I'm actually doing, how can we together work out, what steps I can actually take that are going to make some sort of small change in my life. That's the kind of thing I'd be sort of talking to them about.

Michelle: That's such brilliant advice because, it just is in so many different ways. 

So, Nick, it was such a pleasure to chat to you today and hear about your experience and mission, but also really most importantly, it was an honour to hear your vulnerability and your honesty. And there's so many gems in this discussion, in so many ways from how you say things and really the gift that you are giving through your story. And as much as poor mental health is a burden, hearing that inspirational tale of recovery and your mission and your habit building and your insights is just so important for all of us. So, I hope that you continue to bloom and help so many people.

Nick: Well, thank you, so much, Michelle. And same to you. I really appreciate you having me on here and love all of the work you're doing. It's again, super inspiring and feel very fortunate to be able to come on your show and have this conversation with you. So, thank you, so much for having me.

Michelle: Thank you, everyone, for listening today. And don't forget that you can find all the show notes, transcripts, and other resources from today's episode on the fx Medicine website. We'll also have a link to Nick's book, Mindset. I'm Dr. Michelle Woolhouse, and thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.


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