11 November 2021
For Chris Mann, Principal Environment for BMA, Movember and its commitment to men’s mental health resonates deeply. Fifteen years ago, Chris’ life was turned upside down when he witnessed the fatal accident of his partner, who was struck by a speeding motorcyclist as they crossed the road together near their home in Brisbane.
With the horrific scene of the accident etched into his mind, and the overwhelming grief from losing his partner, Chris’s mental health suffered significantly, and he was later diagnosed with PTSD and major depression. Chris spent the next four years struggling to process what had happened and trying to pull himself out of the dark place he’d found himself in.
Chris has bravely chosen to share his story.
What was life like for you following the accident?
When I returned to work a few weeks after the event, I clearly remember I could have conversations with people about normal everyday things and I could laugh along with their jokes and do my work and meet target requirements. My colleagues took this as a sign that I was coping alright and going to be okay.
However, I definitely was not okay and what I was feeling on the inside was in vast contrast to what I was portraying on the outside. I felt dead inside, numb and like I had this weight on me which never went away.
I continued to function in society over the four years to a point where many people probably had no idea what I was going through. All through this time I continued working, I also did full time university achieving first class honours (Environmental Engineering and Science), and I also battled through a lengthy court case in respect to the accident.
I hope me sharing my experience will prompt everyone to be mindful that we are coming across people every day, whether at work or in the community or at home, who may be experiencing these things which we have absolutely no idea about on face value.
How did those close to you react after the accident?
While I had some great family and friends I could talk to (and did) there were also many that simply didn’t know what to say to me and they basically had no idea what I was going through. I found that many didn’t actually ask how I really was, and I think maybe because this was because they didn’t know what to say, were coming to grips with the loss themselves, or because they thought it would upset me. This all happened in a time when mental health awareness was still really growing and long before initiatives such as R U Okay really encouraged conversations like this to take place. Upon reflection it actually would have been nice to have more people check in on me and ask me honestly how I was going. To the readers if you have a chance to do this, please do it.
Can you explain what it feels like to have PTSD and major depression?
This is very difficult to put into words and my experience may be very different to others. There were flashbacks to the accident which made my heart race and body feel numb – these could come on without warning and many times when driving on the road when I was alone and had time to think about things; there was also sadness and episodes of intense tearfulness - usually this occurred beyond closed doors as I didn’t want to burden others with my issues; I also experienced frightening impulses that seemed to pop into my head so instantaneously that it felt like my body was going to react to the impulse before my brain had time to make sense of what was happening. Following these I often felt a sense of anxiety, almost panic and adrenaline about what may have happened.
What has helped you the most during your mental health journey?
For me, back then I found a lot of comfort and healing in those times by talking to a counsellor and psychiatrist who knew nothing about me, my partner and what had happened. I definitely believe being able to let my feelings and emotions out to someone external, was much better than keeping them bottled up. The counsellor was a great listener, very empathetic, caring and also pointed out some resources which helped me to understand and manage the grief I was going through.
It took me approximately four years to really start to get over what had happened, heal and move on. It was not easy but if I was to sum up in a sentence how I did this, it was by seeking help and talking about my experience and deepest thoughts with professionals, belief it was not the end for my partner, self-help and positivity, seeing the good in life and not the bad, and ultimately wanting to be the best person I could be in honour of my partner because she would want that.
10 years ago I met my beautiful wife Alana in the Bowen Basin, which was such a blessing. We now have two wonderful children, Evelyn 4 and Edward 2. We have a very happy life together in Queensland.
How does talking about mental illness positively impact the workplace?
What happened to me happens to so many people, maybe not in the same way but statistically speaking there are so many people who have been through mental health issues, are currently now, or will do in the future.
I’m happy to say since the time of the accident so much has happened with mental health awareness and initiatives that we truly are living in a different time to back then (even though this was only 15 years ago). Mental health awareness really has been spearheaded by organisations such as Movember, Beyond Blue, Blackdog institute, R U Okay Day and others who have undertaken numerous campaigns, events and initiatives to elevate the issues and provide needed resources and awareness for people that need help. And now organisations are really starting to ramp up efforts in this space too.
In terms of BHP, I’m so proud to be working for a company who takes mental health matters so seriously.
What does Movember mean to you?
I have been a long-term supporter of Movember and really started to become active, fundraise and tell my story in 2011 just after I started working in the coal industry.
I believe Movember is a great initiative for a number of reasons: it promotes awareness on a global level; it goes for a whole month; a man’s moustache really does become a walking and talking point for men’s health awareness over the month; and the money Movember raises is truly amazing and goes a long way to helping mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer and testicular cancer.
Why have you chosen to share your story today?
I share my story with openness and vulnerability with the hope that I can help build awareness about mental health and what it can be like for people experiencing it. It is not easy to share and be vulnerable like this, but I really feel that I have nothing to lose here if what I say can helps others to seek help to overcome the issues they are facing, support a loved one or colleague in need. If I can help just one person then it is all worth it to me.
To find out how to participate or donate to Movember, please visit www.movember.com.