Firefighters are some of the bravest men and woman in the country, but they are still human with battles of their own.
No matter how brave, no one is immune to depression and anxiety.
Firefighter and District 23 operations officer Terry Heafield has traded in his yellow uniform for Lycra as he takes to the road to raise awareness and break down the stigmas surrounding mental health.
For the past three years Mr Heafield has battled with depression and anxiety, something he attributes to the many years of managing high-stress incidents such as bushfires, rescues, car accidents and house fires.
But he has not let it hold him back, and now he hopes to encourage others to speak up about mental health.
Mr Heafield arrived in Ballarat on Saturday, marking the half-way mark on his 2500 km journey from Wodonga to Melton.
He stopped by the Ballarat City Fire Station to talk about mental health issues among firefighters and the importance of talking.
“I’ve been a firefighter for 15 years and while it’s a rewarding career, it certainly comes with a range of presures which have impacted my mental health,” he said.
“It took me a while to realise something wasn’t right… Now that I’ve developed an understanding of my own condition, I try to see when other people are struggling.”
While the extensive bike ride has been a physical challenge for Mr Heafield, he sees it as a visual representation of the internal battle people suffering from mental illnesses face.
“The way I look at it, it’s one of those things we need to get out there. The more we talk about it the more it breaks down the stigmas,” he said.
“It’s not weakness – in fact it takes a great deal of courage to admit to yourself and others that you need help managing mental illness.”
Making it a goal to visit as many fire stations across the state as possible, he had four messages for Ballarat firefighters on Saturday.
“It’s important to look after yourself, to look after your mates, to push the button if you need help and know it’s okay to not be okay,” he said.
“I’m hoping people might be able to take something from my story. I’m on anti-depressants now, and if I’m on them for the rest of my life it’s okay because my quality of life is better.
“If you recognise the signs early the easier it is in the long run.”
Follow Mr Heafield’s journey via the Don’t Do It Alone Facebook page.
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