OLYMPIC snowboarder Belle Brockhoff has joined beyondblue as an ambassador for the mental health awareness organisation in an announcement made yesterday.

The 21-year-old was a contender at this year’s Sochi Winter Olympic Games, where she was the only openly-gay member of the Australian team to speak out against Russia’s “gay propaganda” laws.

Acting chief executive of beyondblue Dr Brian Graetz was proud to announce the latest addition to the organisation, who he said shared their passion for standing up against discrimination.

“Homophobia, like any form of discrimination, can cause long-term stress, which can lead to depression and anxiety,” he said.

“Research shows that LGBTI people are at least three times more likely to try to take their own lives. [LGBTI] Australians are also three times more likely to be currently experiencing depression than their heterosexual peers and are twice as likely to be experiencing anxiety.

“Homophobia is never acceptable, and Belle has shown courage in speaking out in difficult circumstances.”

Brockhoff hoped to use her own struggle with depression and anxiety that started when she was 16 to encourage others to seek help. The Olympian said she lacked confidence, felt immense unhappiness and started to self-harm.

“The doctor diagnosed me with depression and referred me to see a psychiatrist, but I refused to do so because I felt that meant there was something wrong with me. I didn’t know then just how common depression was, so I felt like a freak,” she said.

Brockhoff said that she hit her lowest point during her final year of school, when she was prone to increasingly angry outbursts and felt like she had become a burden to others.

“That was when I decided to see a psychologist… I saw her a few times and she helped me become more aware of my thoughts that led to particular feelings,” she said.

“In the last two years, I’ve also been working with a sports psychologist who is aware of my condition. Seeking this support has made me feel much better.

“Now when I’m down, I try to surround myself with positive and happy people, or talk to my mum and dad or my sister. I also find going for walks by myself or hanging out with a good friend helps if I’m bummed about a result during competitions.”

Dr Graetz hoped that people like Brockhoff and others sharing their stories would help to continue breaking down stigma surrounding mental health issues.

“Belle’s story sends a powerful message, particularly to young LGBTI people, that depression and anxiety are common conditions and having a mental health issue is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage to accept that you need help when you are struggling,” he said.

If people are having a tough time, trained mental health counsellors can be contacted at the beyondblue Support Service on 1300 22 4636 or via www.beyondblue.org.au/get-support for online chat or email.

(Main image credit: Ari Neubauer; Star Observer)

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