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Taking a stand

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Sometimes our start in life can inhibit our ability to succeed. For one prime soccer player and business owner, he had to master his own direction to score goals - on his own terms.

Liz Barrett

Senior Content Producer

Trigger warning: this article involves experiences with a mental health condition. It may be difficult reading this story, especially if you have experienced a mental health condition yourself or supported a friend or family member. If you are feeling impacted, please contact the Beyond Blue support service, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Headspace, or your local GP for support. 

Childhoods are supposed to be joyful times, where we are experiencing the wonders of the world, forming ideas about who we are and who we want to be, all from the safety and security of a loving home. For Jeremy Suggett, it was a confusing time that left him lost as to who he was and his future direction. 'I always thought I grew up in a pretty standard sort of household. I am one of four kids. My mum was a busy primary school teacher, and my dad ran his own business. We lived in a good area in Sydney, and I was an active sporty kid; I loved cricket and soccer,' Jeremy reminisces.

But as Jeremy grew older, he realised that all wasn't as it seemed. 'The relationship between my parents was very toxic, and it was like walking on eggshells every day. It was intense. Dad wasn't what you would consider physically violent, but he was aggressive verbally and slammed things when angry. He was abusive, especially to mum; it was horrible what she went through. We just waited for the next outburst from dad.'

As Jeremy got older, people started to compare him to his dad, something that struck a nerve in him, 'I struggled being compared to my dad. I didn't want to be anything like him. Probably one of my mum's biggest regrets is when she snapped at me one day when I was about 12 and said, 'You're just like your father'. She didn't mean it, but that stuck with her for a long time, maybe 20 years or more.'

When Jeremy's father was in a fury, he tried to appease his father and talk him around sometimes to his detriment. 'He would go into these rages, and my role was to pacify him. It's not a good thing when you're a kid in that position. I went through the worst of it, compared to my siblings. A few years ago, my sister acknowledged that. It was nice to feel validated, but it was awful and still affects me today.'

Jeremy with his Mother Gabrielle Glasziou.
Jeremy with his beloved bagpipes.

Dreams denied

Jeremy may have felt unsure of his place at home, but he knew his position on the field. 'I played high-level soccer from 11 years old and wanted to be a professional soccer player. I was committed and dedicated to that.' 

While his high school classmates were partying, Jeremy poured himself into training and participating in competitive games. But, by the time high school ended, Jeremy was dealing with injuries, and his dream of a professional sporting career was moving further away. 'When you get an injury at that age, it's pretty much hard to come back from it. All my friends knew what they wanted to do and planned to study. I had no idea. I had spent so long with my sights on being a professional soccer player.'

Jeremy was told to work in his father's business, something he was firmly against, but with little other option, he decided to do a business degree, thinking it would benefit the family business. 'I was so unsure of what I wanted that I was too late when I applied to university and didn't get in. Some friends were going to TAFE, so I did the same.'

While studying, he tried to revive his soccer aspirations, 'I was trying to get back into playing and focused on getting fit. I'd been training for three months with a prominent Australian football coach who I respected. One day, he took me aside and said, 'Your head isn't in it; he got rid of me that night.'
 

Downward spiral

The coach was right. The loss of interest in his once-loved sport was the beginning of mental health struggles for Jeremy. 'I went from focused and driven, excited to start the day to struggling to get up in the morning. When you lose interest in something you usually enjoy, it is a classic sign of depression. I was exhausted, sleeping all the time. For around eight months, every little step in the process of getting up for the day seemed hard. I was broken.'

Even though Jeremy has lost his identity in many ways, he knew himself well enough to seek help. 'I knew that this wasn't me. Everything is planned out when you're in school, so my greatest fear was that this was just how you felt once you became an adult. I thought I can't live like this for the next 40 or 50 years. Even though I was only 18 years old, I decided to see my GP.'

With the help of his GP, they deciphered Jeremy's symptoms through a series of self-help videos. When he was finally diagnosed with anxiety and depression, Jeremy felt relieved. 'I remember standing up and hugging him. It was nice to know that it wasn't in my head.'

The diagnosis wasn't a complete surprise, not only the circumstances of his childhood but also a history of depression in the family, 'I grew up in a house where my mum had suffered depression all her life. It was part of my family; we just didn't talk about it. The environment I grew up in didn't help. I have since found out I have what's called complex childhood trauma.' 

Support of friends

Once diagnosed, Jeremy did something many young men would refuse to do. He told his friends what he was going through. 'It's extremely hard, I won't play it down, but you need good people and support around you. To manage your mental health, you need people around you that understand what you're going through. Look at the top athletes or individuals in their field. When they succeed, the first thing they do is they thank their team. These people know that they can't be successful without a strong supportive team around them. So that's even more imperative for us to have when we are unwell, mentally or physically.'
 
Once he had opened up to his peers, he began the journey of managing his diagnosis, getting back into exercise. 'I didn't go back to competitive sport; I played with my mates. I made sure I was outside, moving, getting some endorphins and most of all having some fun.'

Supportive friends Harout Tcherkezian, Shaylene Tcherkezian with Natalie Hughes and Jeremy.
Jeremy gained the confidence to see a careers advisor who helped him discover his love for tech and people, leading him to a medical sales role. Jeremy also has a supportive partner,' She's amazing. If I am struggling, she just sits there and listens, sometimes that's all you need.'
 
Jeremy and his partner, Natalie Hughes.

Finding himself and running a business

Since prioritising his mental health, Jeremy has also put his physical health first. He left a fast-paced, demanding sales job that had him close to burnout. 'People always said I was like my dad, a businessman who was driven by the dollar. I was working as a rep selling medical devices, lots of pressure but well-paid for the effort. I won lots of awards. But the money just wasn't a driver for me. It was good validation for me - I wasn't like my dad after all.'

He now runs his own successful business, but on his terms. 'In the last few years, I've shifted my priorities around towards more health. So getting hit with an autoimmune disease three years into running my business changed everything for me. I want to keep things in balance. While my health comes first, I have things I want to achieve and goals for the business – I love what I do.'
 
Jeremy enjoying a more balanced approach to work and life.

Demystifying depression 

Jeremy is dedicated to making sure others seek help by raising awareness and sharing his story. To date, he has spoken at over 100 Beyond Blue events. 'Did you know for each death by suicide, there are over 20 attempts prior. There were 3,139 suicide deaths in 2020, which means over 60,000 attempts. Anything I can do to try and get people to seek help and know that not alone is important to me.'
 
Jeremy's approach is to instil understanding in people experiencing depression and those around them, 'Everyone's going to experience depression differently. It's also essential to acknowledge that it's a consistently moving target. You don't just see a health professional and get cured. It's something that needs to be checked and maintained constantly. A lot of people feel like they're either broken or fixed - it's not that black and white.'
 
For those concerned for a friend or loved one, Jeremy has some astute advice, 'Figure out the best way that that person wants to communicate. I think we can all be a bit selfish sometimes, but you have to put yourself in their position – some people respond better face-to-face, others over the phone, and some prefer a text. I'm not suggesting hard conversations over text but check-in, start the conversation there.'
Jeremy and partner, Natalie Hughes at 100th BeyondBlue speaker event.
Jeremy shared an example of how this can be really powerful, 'I was speaking at an event, and this communication part resonated with a woman in the audience. She used this technique when her daughter was studying for the HSC. It was clear her daughter was struggling but would snap and get angry when she tried to talk to her. And then one day, while her daughter was upstairs studying, and she was downstairs cooking dinner, she just sent her a text, saying, 'Hey, how are you going? Dinner's ready'. The conversation opened up from there; they could communicate by text message. She was able to support her child through a tough time via a different way of communication.'
 
Jeremy has experienced this firsthand too, 'Men respond so much better at talking when they're side-by-side, so when I talk to my mates, it's when we are driving somewhere. This is a great time for honest conversations without feeling confronted. Women, on the other hand, are fantastic face-to-face. That isn't to say these are hard, fast rules but give it a try. Then if you are still concerned, try another way – don't give up trying. You may just save a life.'
 
The Beyond Blue Support Service is available via phone 24/7 on 1300 22 4636 or via beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat (1pm-12am AEST) or email (get a response within 24 hours).