With Men’s Health Week pending (9 to 15 June), Nick Heynen and clinical psychologist, Kathryn Smith discuss Nick’s journey of coping with anxiety.

Newlywed construction worker Nick Heynen suffered from anxiety. He is one of an estimated 11 per cent* of Australian men who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. Nick sought help and is now living a fulfilled life.

Nick’s perspective:

Q: What was the defining moment for you when you decided to seek help?

A: It was a broken leg four years ago that really sent me into the depths of despair as my physical and mental health spiraled out of control. I became overwhelmed with negative thoughts.

My relationship started to suffer and work became a daily struggle. I realised that I was not going to recover without help. I was directed to Beyond Blue who referred me to Kathryn Smith of Psychology Consultants

Q: What has been the most important lesson?

A: To train myself to condense my worry and negative thoughts. I realise the importance of not avoiding events that may be associated with anxiety or engaging in behaviours that could reinforce the problem. This combined with exercise, a healthy diet and gardening was significant in managing the disorder.

Q: Why did you decide to share your journey?

A: Four years on, my life has completely turned around. I recently married, I have a great job and have a positive outlook. I want to help others climb out of their black hole.

Q: In your opinion how can we reduce the stigma associated with mental illness?

A: One word — education!

Kathryn’s perspective:

Q: What sort of techniques did you use to help Nick overcome his anxiety disorder?

A: One of the key steps was to educate him on what symptoms he was experiencing, how they came about and what made them stay. He was taught techniques that specifically target unhelpful or irrational thought patterns and how to change these.

Q: Is Nick’s disorder common and do you think it’s more difficult for men to seek help?

A: Typically men and probably younger men are poor at seeking help with any health related problems. This is very true of psychological problems as they do not want to be perceived as weak. I think we are managing to break this stigma down, but more work needs to done.

Q: Can you ever fully recover from anxiety or is it something you have to learn to manage?

A: Yes you can recover and get better. You may need to continue to implement the strategies on a daily basis or like Nick remember the principles so when it does get difficult you understand what to do straight away.

Q: What are some simple steps for those who are feeling controlled by this illness?

A: Talk to someone. Your local GP is a good starting point. Websites like Beyond Blue have valuable information. You are not alone.

*Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007

Our thanks to Kathryn and the team at Psychology Consultants. For more info, head to psychologyconsultants.com.au, beyondblue.org.au and menshealthweek.org.au.