On a Tuesday evening at Mt Gambier’s City Hall, men and women are chatting on couches as sunlight streams through the windows.
At mental health support group Lifeboat SE, formality is noticeably absent. There are more than a few laughs. You can speak if you want to or just listen.
Here, everyone’s story is different. Some have lost a family member, others have been through divorces, dealt with failing businesses or struggled with post-natal depression.
For Matthew Brookes, the public face of the Lifeboat SE group, these meetings are a way for people to break the ice about a deeply private subject.
From personal experience, Matthew understands how difficult it is to ask for help when you’re in the grip of anxiety or depression.
“It’s a fact that one in five people will experience mental health issues at some stage but a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it,” Matthew says.
With a relaxed mantra of ‘come and chew the fat with a mate’, the group is taking a community approach to a serious issue affecting regional communities – mental health.
A couple of years ago, life crept up on Matthew Brookes. A change of management at work left him uncertain and mulling over his future.
Then having to deal with being first on the scene of a fatal car accident was closely followed by a scary incident close to home – he rolled the car with his wife and three children inside.
Although no one was injured, it was a shock for the 52-year-old, who confesses he ‘shut up shop’ and stopped talking to his family and friends, instead just wanting to sleep away the day. Stress and worry developed into anxiety and depression.
“I thought I was big enough and ugly enough to handle anything that was thrown at me, but it just got on top of me,” he says.
For a bloke who freely admitted he ‘wouldn’t walk into a meeting’, he knew he needed something else to keep him on track following more traditional forms of treatment.
A group of people began to meet up regularly and the concept of Lifeboat SE began to take shape. The group takes an early intervention approach by helping people manage stressful situations before they become a breeding ground for bigger problems.
They talk about the importance of sleep, exercise, socialising, having hobbies and taking care of yourself.
As Matthew says, “there’s no captain on a lifeboat, it’s just a crew of people surviving together”.
“We want to give understanding to the community that it’s okay to talk and give them some tools to understand what’s going on and how to support each other,” he says.
Recovery is different for everyone and Matthew knows he’ll be managing his condition for years to come. When he feels low, he’ll head out camping with his family, take a long walk or catch up with another Lifeboat member for a beer and yarn.
“Everyone’s ride is different,” he says. “It takes a whole community to look out for each other.”
If you or someone you know is going through a tough time call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
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