More than 3000 Australians take their own life each year.
The AIS has partnered with Lifeline to deliver the Lifeline Community Custodian program to help raise awareness of the mental health issues that contribute to this unacceptably high rate of suicide.
Twenty-one elite athletes from a range of National Sporting Organisations and the National Institute Network have been selected as Lifeline Community Custodians. They will help draw the spotlight on this important issue, reduce the stigma around mental illness and encourage people to reach out and get help when they need it.
Many of the Lifeline Community Custodians have lived experience with mental illness and they are all passionate about giving back to the community and helping Lifeline reduce the rate of suicide in Australia.
The athletes will share their own personal stories and get involved in community events supported by Lifeline around the country.
If you are experiencing a difficult time, please reach out, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. You are not alone.
Elite athletes can contact the Mental Health Referral Network.
For more information about the Lifeline Community Custodian Program, contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Following an expression of interest process, these athletes were selected as Lifeline Community Custodians. They are a passionate group of athletes, keen to share their stories and give back to their community.
Anabelle Smith - Diving
I’ve been involved in diving for 15 years. When I was younger I didn’t have any access to sports psychologists or any understanding of how mental health could impact on my sport and on my life.
Through the support of the VIS and then the AIS we have access to the best professionals in the country, if not the world. So I never get scared that any of my problems are too big or that no-one else is going through the same thing. They are.
I’m really passionate about spreading the word and making sure people get the help that they need, because it’s always out there. There are ways you can feel better. I’ve learnt some coping mechanisms and strategies, and also to just reach out.
Even in AFL at the minute there’s a lot of talk about mental health, and how it can have a big impact on your performance. So reducing the stigma and getting more sports and more people talking about it has definitely helped over the last few years to help spread the message that it’s fine to reach out.
I don’t even bat an eyelid when I feel like I’m struggling now, because I know that there’s help for me. There’s help for everyone.
Angie Ballard - Athletics
There’s definitely a crossover between sport and my psychology studies. The brain is just like any other part of the body: it can be well and it can be sometimes not so well, and it can be exercised and trained in different ways.
Sometimes you need someone like a coach, a psychologist or a GP on the end of the helpline to help you see how to get from where you are to where you want to be.
It’s not simple. Many people have quite complicated things going on, but it can help to talk to someone about it, knowing that it does not have to stay this way. Sometimes it can feel so overwhelming that you do not feel there is many options.
There is quite a few reasons why I want to contribute to the mental health area. Apart from my studies, I have had a few family members lost to suicide and I have quite a few friends who have gone through some tough times. I’ve had my own struggles as well.
There’s this idea, not just in sport but elsewhere that we just have to keep pushing through until we reach breaking point. So we need the conversation being more public and accepting so that everyone knows there’s not just avenues to reach out but that you’re not the only one.
Belle Brockhoff – Snowboarding
I suffered depression during my later teen years, and a bit of anxiety, as well. Over time, I’ve just worked my way through it, and learned to control emotions that can often be so destructive. Snowboarding has played a big part in that.
I also experienced mental and physical bullying when I was a lot younger, which probably planted the seed a little bit when I was trying to figure out my own identity.
We moved houses quite a bit, so I went to seven different schools, and being the new girl all the time also affected that - trying to find friends, then leaving, then trying to find a new friendship group again.
I was constantly travelling, as well, so didn’t have time to have good relationships with my mates until after school. As time went on, I just found myself going into more of a hole, but snowboarding gave me a lot of peace, which is why I kept doing it, and just because I love it, as well.
I’m lucky to have a really supportive family and friends and, by sharing my story, I hope people feel less like they have to hold everything in, keep a secret, or feel ashamed. They need to know that there are lots of helpful resources out there, and lots of athletes and other people who are going through similar things.
Blair Evans - Swimming
My brother has been battling with depression for a number of years, and our family has always gone through it with him. He wasn’t able to fully take ownership of it until a couple of years ago when it came to a head, and the whole family was affected.
He’s been a real driving force for me to want to understand what he’s experiencing, how I can help him, how the family can help him. I was almost broken myself from watching him go through what he has.
I also have a general interest in how I can help others, because, being involved in swimming, I do visit clubs and talk to a lot of children. I’d like to be a voice for them - that if they’re having a tough time, I can offer them an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on for a cry, or just point them in the right direction to get help.
Personally, as well. I have quite a bit of anxiety around my life at the moment, and I have been in some dark places that I’ve really had to pull myself out of, and I thank my support network for getting me through those times.
So if I can help someone else avoid going through what I’ve been through, then that’s my aim.
Cooper Chapman - Surfing
My little sister lost two friends to suicide when she was in Year 12, and I was like ‘why is this happening? We need to do something about this’.
I’ve lost an uncle to suicide and my dad used to suffer from depression, and it’s been really close to my heart forever, and so I thought, ‘you know what? It’s time for me to do something’.
I recently started my business called ‘The Good Human Factory’, and I’ve just done my first talk at a high school about mental health, my story and the tactics I’ve learnt from Surfing Australia and the coaches there. It was really cool. The response was great.
Just being an athlete there’s so much pressure and so much expectation. I’ve definitely had some very dark times when I’ve lost sponsorship and felt like nothing was going my way, but, especially in recent years, I’ve tried to look at everything as an opportunity rather than a threat.
I think athletes and influencers have a bit of a responsibility to share their stories and show other people that it’s not all perfect. I’ve got family and friends who have quite a big social media pull, so I feel like I’ve got a platform to do it, I’ve got this burning desire, so I’m like ‘why not act on it?’."
Dane Bird-Smith - Athletics
I’d never put a name to it or told anyone, but I was depressed. I’d felt anxieties and negativity growing over several years until it reached a critical point in 2017. Out training alone one night, I collapsed, mentally exhausted, and thought ‘what’s the point?’.
I’d been fighting this internal battle alone, in my own head, but that moment scared me enough to confide in my wife Katy. It was a turning point and it has changed by life for the better. I made a decision I was going to be happy again.
I’d been trying to push on alone through the pressure I was feeling. I was balancing sport and university, pushing myself to the limits physically and trying to make ends meet financially. As an aspiring Olympian, I didn’t want to show weakness, but it was draining me of energy. Some days I’d wake up and just want to sit on the couch.
Keeping everything to myself just made everything worse. Gradually I took steps to share my story, with my wife, then professional support, teammates and family.
I won an Olympic bronze medal and Commonwealth Games gold medal during this period, despite not feeling great. Now I wonder how much better I could have been. I want people to know that balance is so important in any walk of life and there is help. Elite athletes can put so much time and focus into peak performance that often we lose track of everything else going on around us.
Now I ‘m ready to fly again, I’m feeling a lot better with where I’m headed.
Declan Stacey - Diving
I grew up in an elite gymnastics performance-based environment. Here, my understanding of my identity was immersed in performance. If I achieved I felt valued and if I didn’t then I wasn’t as important. All in all, it wasn’t healthy.
At school, I was known as the gymnast kid who’s going to the Olympics. The issue here was that I knew at 16 that gymnastics wasn’t my best sport. I knew I would be better at sports such as diving, aerial skiing or trampolining. I was too afraid to let go of my identity as 'The Gymnast’. Fear consumed me.
After finding a connection with God in Christianity, I let go of this performance-based identity. At the ripe age of 22 I switched from gymnastics to diving and it was the best decision of my sporting career.
My message is that even if things aren’t going well in your work or life, it doesn’t define you; there’s always hope, and everyone is important and valuable.
You don’t have to be talented or gifted to be important. Everyone has a purpose in life. I’m going to use my platform as an athlete to encourage each individual to find theirs.
Emily Tapp - Triathlon
In Australia, we identify as a sporting nation, and athletes can become role models for the general population. I want to be able to use that platform to help, and it is a great initiative from the AIS to be linking in with such a great organisation as Lifeline because mental health and suicide statistics are at an all-time high, and increasing.
It is a horrible tragedy, and one that has affected me personally - a close family friend and the partner of one of my relatives have both passed away. Therefore, you see the grief left behind, but you also think about the person and how much they must have been hurting.
I acquired my injury relatively late in life; I had a horse-riding accident in 2011 when I was 19, which left me in a wheelchair. So that was a completely life-changing event and you go through your own highs and lows with such an adjustment.
I had a great support network, and a lot of it came from my family, which was lovely, but I also took the time to seek professional help through that stage, just as I see a sports psychologist to help me as a triathlete.
You can’t go back, so you just want to move forward the best way you can.
Erik Horrie - Rowing
I ended up in a wheelchair at the age of 21, but a lot of people are more interested in my upbringing.
I was made a ward of the state at the age of seven, as a result of domestic violence and abuse, so I was brought up in foster care and then through Boys Towns. That was my childhood.
My partner fell pregnant, and our first child was just born when I had my accident and our lives were turned upside down. It was then that sport became an outlet, and helped give me an understanding of life after my accident.
Even though I couldn’t provide an income for our family, it was as if through sport that I was showing the kids that, with a positive outlook and self-belief, you can get where you want to be.
I played wheelchair basketball for Australia, and then transferred to rowing in 2011, which is where I guess I found my calling. I’ve since been lucky enough to go to two Paralympic Games (with a third, hopefully, next year), become a five-time world champion and multiple world record-holder.
I’ve also been at rock bottom, and I know it takes more of a person to ask for help than someone who puts up a wall and says ‘I’ve got no issues’.
I wouldn’t change anything that I’ve gone through in my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be the athlete, or the person, I am. I didn’t allow my childhood to define me. You’re the person that designs your picture frame. Society doesn’t.
Georgia Wilson - Hockey
I’ve struggled with an eating disorder. So has my little sister. I’ve got a perfectionist mentality, and it’s often the only thing you can control.
It was the same when I tore my ACL while I was preparing for last year’s Commonwealth Games. The loss of control was probably the biggest thing.
I’ve always suffered with mental health issues relating to sporting performance - particularly depression and anxiety - but the 12-month rehabilitation period was difficult for me to process.
I wish someone had said to me ‘look, you’re probably going to struggle for a very long time, but that’s OK’. A lot of what I was experiencing created even more anxiety and worry because I wasn’t sure if how I was feeling was ‘normal’.
Then unfortunately last year my younger sister underwent her own mental health battles. I don’t want anyone else to experience the night when we almost lost her.
I want to de-stigmatise the issues around mental health, especially for young people. As soon as I started talking about it and members of our friendship circle knew what was going on, they started to provide support for Mum.
It was overwhelming to find out how common this is; probably what was more shocking was how secretive a lot of families have been. I’d like to help change that, because you can’t help when you don’t know.
Gordon Allan - Cycling
As a child, I quickly realised I was different. Growing up with a disability, cerebral palsy, it used to frustrate me that I couldn’t always keep up with my mates when we were playing sport. I’d try and fit in, but there were times, especially in high school, I felt a little bullied. I took it in my stride and it’s made me stronger.
As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that everybody needs to accept their own individuality. It’s ok to be different and we all have abilities that make us unique.
Discovering sport for disabilities was a huge positive for me. I took up athletics and swimming and I was competitive. I remember seeing the 2008 Paralympic Games, being inspired and thinking that could be me one day. I’m hoping to make my Paralympic debut in Tokyo next year.
It helps to have role models. Mine is two-time Paralympic gold medallist Peter Brooks who encouraged me in cycling. It’s important to surround yourself with good people.
Jaime Roberts - Paddle
I have a great passion for teaching - whether that’s kids at school as part of my day job, or mentoring younger athletes.
Throughout my life I have been through many different periods of transition. Constantly trying to always be resilient, which sometimes is not easy. So it’s about dealing with that, getting my message across that life isn't always sunshine and rainbows, and that it’s really OK to ask for help.
I haven’t had the smoothest journey. I came into sprint kayak quite late - at the age of 23 - so I had a very steep learning curve. I transitioned from living a FIFO lifestyle as a mining engineer in Perth, to being an elite athlete in a high performance program.
I made my first national team within a year, for the 2014 world championships, but then things didn’t quite go to plan. So after a few different setbacks and missing out on Rio, I decided that I had to move from Perth to Queensland if I was going to chase the Tokyo dream, to be and train with the best in the country.
I’ve done a bit of work with development athletes over my time. I really enjoy guiding them through their sporting journey and helping them deal with the stress associated with balancing life, school, work, study, or whatever it is. I know that it’s quite dynamic.
I’m happy to help in any way I can, no matter how big or small.
Jenna O’Hea - Basketball
Last December, my uncle took his life. We’re an extremely close family and we were stunned when that happened. It took a big toll on all of us.
I did a lot of research on the suicide statistics and I didn’t realise how high they were in Australia. Mental health issues are crippling our nation, in my opinion, and the numbers are rising every year.
That was how the WNBL's 'Lifeline Round' came about. In the last round of the season, every team donated $100 for every three-pointer they made, the WNBL matched the total number, and we were able to donate over $15,000 to Lifeline Australia. It was a really wonderful initiative which will become an annual event.
But, more than the money raised, I wanted to create awareness and get people talking about it, because the stigma around mental health needs to end. We also need to be very conscious of the impact of social media, and the keyboard warriors out there. Social media is a double-edged sword for many athletes, and it can really affect people in a lot of ways.
My uncle was 46. People often tend to put on a brave face. You don’t know what they’re going through. So just in our family, from this we’re reaching out more and trying to have more open and honest conversations, which aren’t always easy.
Jo Brigden-Jones - Paddle
I’ve wanted to be a paramedic since I was 10, long before I even picked up a paddle and dreamed of becoming an Olympian.
Although I’ve represented Australia for 16 years in paddling, including at the 2012 Olympic Games, I’ve been able to find even greater balance in my own life by working as a full-time paramedic since 2016. I work three 12-hour shifts a week, often night-shifts too, but there’s so much gratification in being able to directly help people within the community.
Being a paramedic has certainly been an eye-opener and exposed me to the number of people within the community who are seeking help with their mental health. Sometimes we’re first responders, but we’re often in direct contact too with Lifeline, who play such a valuable role.
I did consider retiring from high performance sport when I started working full-time as a paramedic. But I wanted to stay fit and I’m competitive, so I’m pushing towards the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. It can be a challenge juggling my time, but it actually puts me in a good headspace. I can focus 100 per cent on what I’m doing, whether that’s work or sport. That’s why I’m committed to being a Lifeline Community Custodian with the AIS.
Ken Wallace - Paddle
A lot of people are involved in the Lifeline Custodians program because of something traumatic that’s happened directly to them or to somebody very close to them.
The impact I've felt has been from a further distance away.
Why I’m involved is partly because I believe prevention is better than cure. That's why I believe sport has helped so many people channel their energy in a positive way while creating friends, team-mates, and a support network around them that is priceless.
Lifeline provides an accessible opportunity for people to talk through a crisis and, most importantly, for young people to realise how valued their life is. This is very important to me, especially bringing up my young family through this day and age with the complexities of social media, the internet and mental illness.
I have been fortunate to be involved in sport from an early age right through to the last three Olympic Games. The values and lessons beyond training my body has equipped me to want to share some of these stories.
Everyone’s got a phone these days, which means they have a lifeline. So we’re in your pocket, we’re always here, we are everywhere and all you have to do is raise a hand. Whether it’s actually to Lifeline or just calling a friend, there will always be someone to listen.
Kristy Harris - Boxing
Mental illness - including depression, anxiety and bipolar - is something that runs in my family. I have seen close ones suffer from a young age and quickly learnt the importance of mental health. It became even more apparent to me when a local high school experienced several student suicides in a short amount of time.
My personal experience began in my early teens experiencing depression and social anxiety, which led to binge drinking. Bad habits started spiralling and it wasn’t until I started boxing that I gained some self-confidence and began to better myself. I can’t express how much my sport has helped me mentally.
The depression returned in 2017 when I badly broke my leg and was housebound for three months. Missing trips, selections and mostly not being able to train really put me in a bad place. It was then that I spoke to a professional and began working on my wellbeing. Sometimes you don’t realise how bad a place you are in until you open up about it.
I have had close friends have breakdowns - some so bad that I have driven them to hospital. Hearing from someone you care about say they don’t want to live, or they have nothing to live for is heartbreaking. All I want to do is help, and that’s why this position stood out to me so much.
Laura Hingston - Diving
After watching the gymnastics at the 2004 Olympic Games I knew straight away that was what I wanted to do.
But after eight years, my gymnastics career ended when I had to have back surgery. I felt lost and devastated, like my dreams had been shattered.
My coaches told me I’d grown too much to go back to elite gymnastics - 13cm in seven weeks. It was crazy. I went from training 32 hours a week up until the night before my operation to zero afterwards.
Laying on my back for seven weeks in recovery gave me a lot of time to think. I was more motivated than ever. The Olympic Games was still my dream. I had to find another sport, another way to get there.
The Victorian Institute of Sport had a talent-transfer program. I tried diving and absolutely loved it.
Trying a new sport at 18 was a challenge and there was a lot of personal growth for me within that transition. I’ve learned resilience and mental strength, whether it be standing on the 10-meter platform preparing to dive or facing the challenges of life head on.
Michael Tone - Gymnastics
I went through a rough time with injury at the end of last year. I missed a major competition, which has made the qualifying process for the Tokyo Olympics more difficult.
I hurt my ankle; it wasn’t even too serious; just some minor ligament damage. It was more the timing, just a few days before we were due to fly out for the world championships.
We needed to finish in the top 24 to be certain of qualifying a team for this year’s world championships in Stuttgart – which is the main Olympic qualifying event – so to not be there to help the team was quite stressful. Then to end up coming 25th by an extremely small margin as well, that was tough. Fortunately, we managed to earn the final team place by beating New Zealand at the recent Oceania Championships, which was a big relief.
As gymnasts, we train for five, six hours a day, six days a week, so it can be very mentally straining as well as physically demanding.
I hope through the Lifeline program I can give a bit of an inside view into the struggles that sportspeople can face. To be a voice for that, an ear if someone needs it, and just someone to understand where other people are coming from.
Monique Murphy - Swimming
In 2014, during my second year of university, I fell from a fifth floor balcony. It was suspected that my drink had been spiked.
Along with many, many other injuries, I had my leg amputated below the knee.
The police had ruled that it was a suicide attempt, so that’s what I woke up to after I was in a coma for a week. I had no memory of the accident; those are eight hours I can not place, at all.
Even though I was assessed to be mentally sound and suicide was no longer suspected, a lot of friends dropped out of the picture. I was 19. At that age a lot of people don’t know what to do around mental illness, or suicide-prevention, so they just stayed away. But it just made me feel even more isolated.
I won a silver medal at the Paralympic Games just two years after my accident. There is no way I could have done that if I didn’t have the emotional support of my family and the friends that did stick around.
I’ve always been big on community engagement, been a volunteer, and studied social work at university. A program like this that promotes the need to check in with people, have those conversations, and encourage those discussions around mental health is just paramount.
Scott Reardon - Athletics
I’m originally from Temora in country NSW. I lived there until I moved down to Canberra when I was 18.
Mental health is something that was never really considered when I was younger. Then on either side of Christmas in 2014, I lost two of my friends from Temora to suicide. It had quite a devastating effect on our whole community.
Males, particularly, tend to hide what we feel and we don’t actually get out and have a chat about what is going on. However, it is such an important conversation.
With mental health, there is a lot of emphasis on the big cities, but there is so many country kids who are falling through the cracks. That’s fact. The suicide rate is much higher than it should be - not only within youth, but within the older generation, too.
When you are out in country areas, you are excluded from many support networks, and those you do have can be very small.
I lost my leg in a farm accident when I was 12, and I had access to professional help straight away. I never used it, but I always knew it was there.
There is still this idea that you are seen as weak to talk about mental health issues you might be facing. If we can break that cycle in country areas, I think we can save many lives.
Sophie Fletcher - Surfing
I’d call myself ‘home-grown’. I come from Phillip Island, which is a pretty small coastal town in Victoria. My parents taught me to surf and I’ve been part of the surfing community my whole life. It’s given me so many opportunities.
There have been some really inspiring people that I’ve been able to look up to since I’ve been young - and many of them have put in the time to help become a better person. I guess I just want to give back to the community, and other athletes, so we can inspire each other.
The father of one of my best friends took his own life. He lived at the end of our street and he was someone I looked up to because he took all the grommets out surfing and away on camps. He was probably the last person you’d think would take his own life.
I believe that we all have stories to share, so by sharing my stories of challenges that I’ve faced as an athlete, hopefully other athletes can learn from what I’ve done in terms of successes and mistakes, and how I’ve grown.
Then obviously I’m going to learn from how other people have done things in other sports. It’s about sharing information and all working together.
Full list of athletes who are participating
|Angie Ballard||Athletics - Para|
|Emily Tapp||Triathlon - Para|
|Erik Horrie||Rowing - Para|
|Gordon Allan||Cycling - Para|
|Jaime Roberts||Paddle - Sprint|
|Jo Brigden-Jones||Paddle - Sprint|
|Ken Wallace||Paddle - Sprint|
|Monique Murphy||Swimming - Para|
|Scott Reardon||Athletics - Para|