Nic Newling is a dedicated advocate for mental health and suicide prevention. He travels around the country speaking about his own experience with a mood disorder and losing his older brother to suicide as a teenager, to change the way mental illness is addressed in schools, workplaces and communities.
Now 28 years old, Nic says he was a very ambitious child. He had decided very early on what his whole future would hold, and set his sights on becoming a veterinarian. But in his first few years of high school Nic says he changed a lot.
“I’d really enjoyed primary school and had won a scholarship to a school I really enjoyed,” he says. “I had started struggling a lot academically and personally, which was a very unexpected change. How I was acting wasn’t ‘me’. I was getting very anxious and was no longer able to think properly in class. I realised I was losing more than my happiness; I was losing part of myself.”
At the end of Year 8 Nic was admitted to an adolescent psychiatric facility where he was treated for nine months as one of the youngest patients.
“On one hand it was terrible because it was very confusing. I had symptoms of psychosis and I was deflated by a loss of hope for the future,” he says.
“On the flip side, which is often overlooked, it was a huge relief. All the pressure I had put on myself academically was gone. I got to meet people for the first time who I could talk to about what was happening, who had no shame or fear about talking about it. It was refreshing because I felt I couldn’t discuss it with anyone at school, which is a huge part of what I do now.”
Nic was eventually diagnosed with bipolar 2 disorder at age 17. After struggling for so long with his recovery, Nic’s condition improved markedly within a few months of receiving the right treatment. He says now his illness is being managed so well, he feels like he doesn’t have it.
Nic values his medication just as much as the support he receives from friends and family. “If not for Mum and Dad guiding me through all this, in terms of getting help and taking my medication, I wouldn’t have been able to do it,” he says. “But serious mood disorders do require professional care to make the best possible recovery.”
After leaving school in Year 11, Nic was invited to speak at a conference of high school headmasters. Having held back from speaking about his experiences during high school, Nic found it an incredibly valuable way to tackle the stigma attached to mental illness. He was soon speaking at other events and to media about his experiences, and recently spoke at the 10 year reunion of his graduating class.
Nic has been working on the Black Dog Institute’s BITE BACK program for several years, but is now cutting back his full-time work to make time for his increasing speaking roles.
“I want to be able to reach more people who might be scared or confused about what they’re going through. I want to provide insight and say, ‘it does get better’. I’d like to inspire more people to speak about their experiences too,” he says.