Mental Health: A Constant Campaign
A Conversation with Lance Picioane
It’s quite the transition from AFL draftee to the CEO of a mental health advocacy organisation, and Lance Picioane’s story is one worth hearing. We spoke to him during Mental Health month to learn about his journey, and the work he is now doing to help others.
At 17 years old, Lance was drafted in the first round to play for the Adelaide Crows Football club, something he’d dreamed of since a young age. But the immense pressure to perform, adjusting to life in a new city and moving away from his support system had negative effects on his mental health, something he wouldn’t understand until much later in life. In his early 20s, depression took hold.
“It was hell” Lance says. “I didn’t want to be anywhere near anybody, I would sit in my room for hours on end, crying, and I didn’t want to be doing anything.” Not even football was spared - Lance says he walked into the club’s wellbeing offices countless times to say “I don’t want to be here anymore” - a moment he now recalls with sadness. “It was my dream”.
The understanding of what he was dealing with wouldn’t come until much later in life. Looking back, he says, he can see that his struggle began in his teen years. Social disconnect fed his anxiety, but his maturity and understanding at the time didn’t allow him to connect to it, and it only got worse.
“I was acting out, putting myself in situations that weren’t positive. Anxiety played out in violence. When I was delisted from my third club, I started partying. I was still functioning - I was a personal trainer in the city, I was still doing everything to support my physical well-being, but not dealing with my mental illness that I didn’t know I had, and things got really dark.”
A stark realization came in October 2011, when he came close to suicide. At that moment, he says, reality set it. “Something wasn’t right.”
While those close to him could see the changes in his behavior, the moment of clarity for him was something else.
“My whole life I’d experienced people telling me what I should be doing, what I should be feeling and what my life should be like. This was probably the first time in my life that I was just allowed to be. I wasn’t being pressured. I thought, okay, I can say something here. I can say that I’m battling. And I’ve been battling for a long time.”
While mental health is now something widely spoken about, Lance says his experience 15 years ago was much different. “The conversation around mental health just wasn’t around. It wasn’t the ‘done thing’. The beast that is mental illness that lives inside your head doesn’t allow you to see that, either. I didn’t want to be seen as weak - I try to carry myself as strong as possible. Chin up, chest out. I always thought I was invincible to life’s challenges.”
Leading from the front
Through seeking help for his own mental health, Lance wanted to help others in similar positions and in April 2013 founded Love Me Love You, a non-profit organization that strives to empower and build resilience in young adults.
“In the darkest of places, you find the brightest of lights. You only need a flicker of a light to light up your room.”
Love Me Love You now provides engaging, evidence-based programs for young people, designed by mental health professionals – a community called the Love Me Love You collective, which includes psychologists, child psychologists, neuropsychologists, educators, dieticians, exercise scientists and more.
Educating the Educators
The programs also encompass a range of content and activities for teachers, coaches and parents – like the Youth Mental Health First Aid Course, which helps them to understand more about adolescent mental health.
“They are often the first person a kid will go to, because they’re trusted. They also have constant contact with the kids, so can probably identify the behavioural changes we need to keep an eye out for.”
Lance notes it’s important to remember that programs are designed to create frameworks, not solutions. “There’s no one blueprint that works for everybody, and it’s not about them being the answer. It’s about asking the right questions to allow someone to answer themselves. That’s what support is about.”
Looking to the future
For young people in similar situations, Lance says the key is self-awareness. “The earlier we can understand who we are, and what makes us tick, the better we are going to be. Acknowledge your passions and acknowledge your everyday: what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and why is it making you feel a certain way. Understanding that the more you connect to your life and what it means to be you, the better off you’ll be.”
“Attack Adversity with Diversity”
“Put yourself in a position to try different things. Have different parts of your life. If you put your sole focus into one thing, and that one thing doesn’t go the way you want it to, what are you left with? Put energy into different parts of your life, whether it be education, profession, sports, hobbies, family, friends - but more importantly, yourself. Understand your passions and what makes you smile. Find your path, but allow people in on it as well.”
Mental health awareness isn’t one day or month in a year, but a constant campaign, and small steps go a long way, Lance says. “By creating a culture of engaging with each other and conversations regularly, we create safe space that allows people to access help when they need it.”
Love Me Love You runs a range of programs to support teachers, coaches and parents. To find out more, visit www.lovemeloveyou.org.au