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Radio’s mental health check: Are we OK?

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“I have been very, very grateful for my career in radio. In fact, it saved my life a couple of times.”

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Looking back on his teenage years, it is now obvious Christian O’Connell that there was anxiety in his life… and in his nervous system.

“But in the ’80s that word hadn’t been invented yet,” O’Connell says.

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“They told you to just stop being so sensitive and ‘be brave.’”

The highest rated breakfast host in Melbourne Gold 104.3O’Connell opens up about his crippling panic attacks during an emotionally charged interview on The Andy Coulson crisis, what crisis? podcast.

Be brave. Toughen up. Hang in there.. That used to be the norm in terms of how we deal with mental health issues. But how much has really changed since the 80s?

“In Australia, there is a massive men’s mental health crisis,” O’Connell says. “And it’s actually getting worse.”

O’Connell believes that men find it very, very difficult to ask for help.

“There’s a real problem with men in the way we’re raised and how we’re not allowed to feel our emotions safely, and that can only manifest itself in bad ways.”

Slowly but surely, the radio industry has been working to end the stigma.

Just this month, Bryce Molinos spoke about his own mental health issues, after announcing his decision to leave his hosting position on Triple j breakfast.

Mills explained that while it was his dream job, he was exhausted by the demands it placed on him.

In May of this year, Alex ‘Strawny’ Strachan took a break from his role as presenter Triple M North Central Coast Breakfast to take care of your mental health.

Marty Sheargold, Triple M Melbourne breakfast presenter announced last October that he would be taking an extended break, saying he was mentally exhausted.

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Then this Mel Greigwho detailed how, during the fallout of the real prank call, his own mental health suffered as he battled online trolls who spewed a relentless barrage of hate on social media.

Yes, social media: a toxic cesspool we DID NOT have to deal with in decades past. Although a former colleague reminds me that there were some in the industry “who would lift you up and tear you apart in one breath,” in the same way that social media does now.

There are countless other stories like these, and given the pressure-cooker environment of radio, resilience expert Graeme Cowan strongly believes that media industry teams should unite and support each other.

“It is important for people who work in radio to accept that self-care is not selfish,” Cowan says.

Cowan encourages radio executives to check their mood and be aware of it when making decisions, using the Moodometer system.

In recent years, triple-m you have entered your day without talking – now in partnership with Life line – where its 43 stations across the country go on the air with no ads, no shows, no announcers, no news and no traffic – in the hopes of helping people start a conversation about mental health.

In 2021, RNA and KIIS Drive Co-Host Will McMahon launched a mental health monitoring app called Share my mood.

McMahon said at the time: “I know that one of the hardest things to do when you have mental health issues is to ask for help or even just let someone know that you’re not okay.”

What radio finally gave Christian O’Connell was a way to find himself.

“I think if you’re lucky in life to find a job that gives you life, whatever you choose to do in life… what you love will also destroy you sometimes,” he says. “He just does it.”

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O’Connell – in his interview with Coulson – admits that much of his career has been characterized by exhaustion and overwhelm.

“Sometimes I’m not very good at controlling myself and taking care of myself.”

O’Connell points out that when we hit our forties, shit gets real. Life catches up with us.

“And it caught up with me. She wasn’t listening to the little quiet moments and suddenly, literally…there was an earthquake of life. She stripped me of everything and forced me to listen to it.

The day his wife sarah He told her, “I think you need help,” which O’Connell says was one of the hardest things to hear.

“At the time my ego interpreted it as, “I think you just screwed up.” It’s not what she meant. “It’s not what she said, but it’s what I interpreted.”

“I remember going to see a therapist for the first time. He says, “You don’t want to be here, do you?” And I said, “No. “I think therapy is for people who are screwed, and I’m not screwed.”

“And he says, “Well, why are you here?” And I said, “This fear, I just want it out of me, that’s what I really want.”

O’Connell says the therapist laughed.

“He says, ‘I’ll go get a knife. Where do you think it is in your body? I’ll cut it off for you and I’ll be the richest surgeon in the world if I can cure people of panic attacks just by cutting them.’”

O’Connell says receiving therapy changed his life.

“Most of us have a horrible way of talking to ourselves. “You are a stalker, that voice in your head is a stalker sometimes.”

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“If you spoke like that to anyone else (your partner, your children), you would be a monster. But you have no problem talking to yourself like that.”

O’Connell remembers that just a year ago he arrived at work and suddenly felt a panic attack coming on.

“I was like ‘Oh no. Not now. Everything is going well'”.

O’Connell talks about rehearsing future failures: “I’m going to go into the studio and blow up and everyone’s going to say, ‘Oh my God, he’s crazy again.’ He has lost control. And they will fire me and find out.”

He says getting back “in the moment” takes a lot of work.

“I’m still going to get that little raise, but now it feels like an old friend and I can almost imagine him in the passenger seat on the way to work and saying, “Yes, I’m a little tired today. I haven’t been taking care of myself. I need to go to bed a little earlier. “I know, listen, you can come to the studio with me, but you can’t destroy all the equipment.”

O’Connell believes that podcasting has opened up a new world of new possibilities in the mental health space.

“I think the wonderful thing about podcasting now is that you have these conversations where it’s actually about things that we’ve never been able to properly talk about and delve into.”

“And it is transformative. “A single conversation can change someone’s life now.”

*To access Lifeline support, call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au/talk.

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