Brunel recently hosted a live webinar by former MMA champion and mental health advocate Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei. Soa’s inspiring, and at times confronting, story gripped the attention of the 40+ participants and delivered an important message about the role we all play in the mental health of those around us.

Sometimes asking for help is the toughest act of all

Overcoming a troubled childhood to become one of the first Australians to compete in the revered Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) promotion, Soa uses his unique story as a lens through which to explore the nature of resilience, to challenge the stigmas and dangerous thinking which can isolate those suffering with depression and anxiety, and to champion a positive and receptive attitude to mental health in general.

“I’ve got two missions in life – one is to help others find their voices, follow their dreams and achieve big things. My other mission is to raise awareness around mental health and to get people talking with each other and support services about their challenges,” Soa said.

“We have a real problem with people shutting down attempts by their mates and co-workers when they try to talk about the things that bother them. Toughen up. Have a cup of concrete. People hear these responses and it reinforces this idea that it’s not okay to struggle, and that if you are, you should keep it to yourself.

“It may not be their intention, but those sort of ‘man up’ comments are really dangerous. Those words, those ideas, build a wall that can isolate someone to such an extent that they only see one way out. It’s something that has to change, but also something which every one of us can play an active role in changing.”

As a mental health advocate, Soa frequently speaks with teens, adults and workplaces – particularly within the mining industry – to encourage healthy behaviours and equip people with tools to help them exercise better self-care.

“Being resilient really comes down to a handful of fundamental behaviours; building and maintaining healthy relationships, accepting that change is part of living, setting and pursuing realistic goals, looking for opportunities to learn and grow from our experiences – even the painful ones – and making looking after yourself a priority.

“The other thing that can’t be overlooked is physical activity. Aside from your body’s immediate physical wellbeing, regular exercise also releases endorphins and serotonin which can help lift your mental state as well as increasing your energy levels and giving you better sleep.”

Soa ‘The Hulk’ Palelei’s biography Face Your Fears is available through a number of bookstores and online retailers

For more information, resources and mental health support visit Beyond Blue, Sane Australia and Lifeline.

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