When Julia Gillard left politics in 2013, she didn't have to look further than her own family for inspiration about what to do next.
Gillard, Australia's 27th prime minister, grew up having conversations at the dinner table about mental health. Her father was a psychiatric nurse.
Sadly, mental illness was a largely taboo topic of conversation back then. Today, on World Mental Health Day, Gillard is confident Australia's mental health has made significant strides.
But as she tells HuffPost Australia during an exclusive interview with editor-at-large Lisa Wilkinson, there's yet more work to do on Australia's most prevalent mental health condition.
"Anxiety affects more Australians than depression, around two million a year. It's the biggest, most prevalent mental health problem in Australia," Gillard told HuffPost Australia.
Gillard in July replaced Jeff Kennett as the Chair of beyondblue, one of the country's leading authorities on mental health. It took only three days to set out her stall: tackling Australia's suicide crisis.
About eight Australians take their own lives each day. Gillard is committed to seeing that change. For now, her focus with beyondblue is raising greater awareness around anxiety.
Indeed, the statistics are staggering. One in three people who suffer anxiety don't recognise it as a problem for more than a year. Even more concerning, one in six don't seek treatment for six years, and only about four in 10 anxiety sufferers even take that step.
What Does Anxiety Feel Like?
- Excessive worrying about things that could go wrong;
- Racing mind that won't calm down;
- Feeling tense or on edge;
- A racing heart;
- Shallow or rapid breathing;
- Sleeping problems;
- Avoiding situations that make you feel anxious.
"[With anxiety] we're talking about really sustained feelings... it's curtailing their lives, they might staying home or avoiding social situations and avoiding things that trigger more anxiety," Gillard said.
Gillard and beyondblue are running the Know When Anxiety Is Talking campaign and the key message is to seek help.
It's OK to say 'I have an issue'.
"Help is available. Don't just think, 'This is my life, I'm condemned to this, it's never going to get any better'," Gillard told HuffPost Australia.
"We want people talking about anxiety and acting on it.
"When we see things like AFL footballers coming out and being prepared to say they've had some problem with their mental health... that does mean to me that we are getting through with the conversation that it's OK to say, 'I have an issue'."
Gillard also reaffirmed beyondblue's support for marriage equality. Again, the statistics for mental illness in the LGBTQ community are alarming.
LGBTQ people are far more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual people and experts estimate that legalising same-sex marriage may lead to 3000 fewer suicide attempts per year from high-school children.
"I think people should vote 'yes' in the plebiscite," Gillard said.
"And beyondblue has as a board said that we support marriage equality and we think it's very important that discrimination is addressed.
"Discrimination does have impacts for people's mental health. We know for the gay community in Australia... that there are enhanced risks for depression, anxiety and suicide."
It Gets Better
One of the most fraught aspects of mental illness is the feeling of hopelessness that often comes with it. But, as Gillard says, the key is to seek help. Because people can get better.
"One of the things with mental health, we often forget to say, people do get well," Gillard told HuffPost Australia.
"People get treatment, get the help they need, get better and they get on with the rest of their lives.
"Overwhelmingly, people recover. So reach out."