“No matter how strong you are on the outside, you can’t do it alone”.
This is Heath Black’s message to anyone suffering from Mental Illness. And he should know. As an AFL player, he reached his physical peak and lived a life many people dream of. But on the inside, he was crumbling. And eventually, it all came tumbling down in a public fall from grace.
In this raw and honest interview, Heath shares his story of mental illness and how it almost drove him to the edge. He gives a first-hand account of being drafted as a professional footballer at the age of 17 and having money and stardom thrust upon him. He tells of his early struggles with anxiety and how his onfield career peaked just as his off-field life was falling to pieces. He then turned to alcohol as a way to numb the pain and developed an addiction to this and other destructive behaviours. This lead to a series of misdemeanours, including violence and drinking charges. Heath narrowly avoided prison and was ordered to undertake rehabilitation.
Today, he still struggles with mental health issues which include ADHD, Bipolar, OCD and Social Anxiety Disorder. But through a combination of medication and lifestyle changes, Heath has pulled his life back together and now works as a Mental Health Advocate where he uses his story and profile to educate other people about Mental Health.
Heath is also a Stay At Home Dad taking care of four children including one on the autism spectrum. And as you will hear, Heath uses his own experience to help teach his kids about emotions and mental health.
Openly discussing mental health is an important way to break the stigma and encourage more people to seek help when needed.
I’m grateful that Heath is willing to share his personal story and offer real-life advice to others in a similar situation.
For anyone who has suffered from mental illness or knows someone who has, then this interview will help you realise that you are not alone and it is possible to seek help and come out the other side.
Heath Black is a former Australian Rules Footballer, who played 192 games over a 12-year career with Fremantle and St Kilda.
He was recruited at number 12 in the 1996 AFL Draft as a 17-year-old and began his career with the Fremantle Dockers in 1997. He received a nomination for the Norwich Rising Star award in his first year. After spending five seasons at the Dockers, he finished Runner-Up Best and Fairest to Peter Bell in the Doig Medal. He was then traded to St Kilda and played with the Saints for three years, during a successful period with Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and a young Nick Riewoldt, making it to the preliminary final in 2004. Heath then requested to be traded back to Fremantle for personal reasons. And he played a further three years with the Fremantle Dockers.
In 2005, he was selected to represent Australia for the International Series against Ireland and was awarded Best Clubman for the Dockers in 2007. Heath Black retired from the AFL in August 2008 at the age of 29.
Towards the end of his football career he had a series of public misdemeanors. Spiraling out of control, Heath realized the full extent of his mental issues in 2009 following the failure of his marriage, lost job opportunities, several arrests and a growing dependence on alcohol. He was finally diagnosed with Bipolar II and ADHD type 6.
Heath has since managed to pull his life back together and now works as a mental health advocate, where he uses his profile and experience to help other men who suffer from mental health problems.
He has re-married and is now a Stay At Home Dad taking care of four children, including one who is on the Autism Spectrum. He uses his own experience to help educate his children about emotions and mental health.
- Website: www.heathblack.com.au
- Facebook: @heathfrancisblack
- Instagram: @heathblack9
- LinkedIn: Black Ash Solutions
What You’ll Learn
- Heath’s early life and spending wild weekends with his dad
- Being drafted as a professional footballer at age 17
- Moving to Fremantle and his fear of flying
- Playing at St.Kilda with Robert Harvey, Nathan Burke and a young Nick Riewoldt
- How his first marriage fell apart and ended in divorce
- His addiction to binge drinking and other destructive behaviours
- His public misdemeanors, losing his job and narrowly avoiding jail
- His mental health diagnosis which includes:
- Bipolar 2
- ADHD Type 6 (labelled as “the ring of fire”)
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Some of the medications and other therapies he uses such as:
- EFT tapping for panic attacks and anxiety
- His current life as a Stay At Home Dad with four kids including one on the autism spectrum
- How he encourages his family to discuss emotions
- Using a mood book
- Feelings and emotions charts
- His current work as a Mental Health Advocate
- Changes in attitudes over the last 10 years
- Heath Black’s advice for anyone experiencing Mental Health Problems
- Global Mind Screen – online mental health assessment
- BeyondBlue.org – mental health organisation
- EFT Tapping Therapy
- Relax Melodies – relaxation app
- The Feeling Wheel – an emotions chart for labelling feelings
Quotes by Heath Black
“The pain that was going on in my brain was 10 times as bad as the shoulder that was hurting, the hernia that was hurting and the hips that were hurting. And in a twist, I was in career-best form and it was tricking me that I was okay.”
“Nobody can do it on their own, no matter how strong you are on the outside, the inside eventually crumbles”
“I still deal with anxiety every day, I’m not cured, trust me, it’s a struggle. Some days are good, some days are bad, but I’m better educated now to deal with the bad ones.”
Previously published on thedadtrain.com
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Photo credit: Scott Davison