Coffee entrepreneur Dean Merlo points to his cousin Chris as inspiration for partnering with suicide prevention organisation RUOK Day to toss aside the “she’ll be right” mantra and get blokes talking honestly about their mental health.
Chris, 51, a father to two sons, openly admits to battling bouts of anxiety and depression in the past, self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs.
But these days, the personal trainer has “never felt healthier” and wants to help other men overcome their mental demons.
Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles has described suicide rates in the state, higher than the national average, as “not acceptable”.
In 2017, 804 Queenslanders lost their lives to suicide, which was the leading cause of death in 15 to 44 year olds in the state.
Australian men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women.
Chris credits his relationship with cousin Dean, and other people in his life he can trust, including fiance Belinda Rooney, for helping him through the tough times.
“Dean has been there to support me through thick and thin,” Chris said. “He’s my first cousin, but he’s like my Big Brother. He’s helped me through an awful lot.
“Depression is so tough when you’re in the middle of it and that’s when I think it’s so important that people reach out and say: ‘Man, I’m really struggling. Can you help me?’
“We have an obligation more than anything to look after our friends and family and as a society to embrace people who have got the courage to reach out and say: ‘Listen, it’s OK. Mostly, things will pass’.”
Chris said he had found a multi-pronged approach to dealing with his anxiety and depression was helpful, including seeking professional advice from a general practitioner and psychologist.
He also cited exercise, keeping well hydrated, eating well and seeking solace in nature as beneficial.
After spending 30 years in the hospitality industry, he switched to becoming a personal trainer seven years ago.
“Working in the hospitality industry is not the healthiest thing in the world, it’s very stressful and there’s booze everywhere,” Chris said. “It’s late nights, weekends and split shifts. It’s a rewarding industry, but it’s unhealthy.”
His cousin Dean, Queensland’s coffee king, called on men to open up about their mental health challenges the same as they would if they had a lung infection.
“That’s why RUOK is a clever campaign. Sometimes asking the question is all it takes,” he said.
Miles, Janelle. (2019). ‘RUOK Day: Call on Aussie men to toss aside “she’ll be right” mantra’, The Courier Mail. Published 12 Sep 2019. https://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/ruok-day-call-on-aussie-men-to-toss-aside-shell-be-right-mantra/news-story/aab48f6ae5ef2274da49bcd526fbc4a2