To coincide with World Suicide Prevention Day and RUOK Day, Greg Nunan shares his mental health journey in this candid podcast with Rachel Towel – from his own personal struggles to volunteering for a mental health support group to help others going through a tough time.

Content warning: in this episode of the MetLife podcast, we discuss the sensitive subject of suicide. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please call lifeline on 13 11 14.

Rachel Towell:

My name is Rachel Towell, I am the national distribution manager with MetLife. And today I am talking about mental health.

Rachel Towell:

Joining me on this podcast is Greg Nunan. Greg has previously worked in the financial services industry as a financial adviser. After many years of battling with his own mental health, Greg now wants to share his story and how he has overcome adversity with the hope to de-stigmatise the conversation around mental health, look out for the warning signs, and encourage anyone who might be struggling to reach out.

Rachel Towell:

Greg, thank you for joining me today. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, your family, and your hobbies?

Greg Nunan:

Hi, Rachel. Great to catch up again. Yeah, I'm a 44 year old father with two beautiful kids. I started advising back in '99. Live over on Northern Beaches. I love my surfing, snowboarding. Love my ocean swimming, traveling, camping with the family, and hitting the gym. And recently I've gotten into running; one those things that I've always hated. And I started listening to Dave Goggins and Akira The Don about pushing through on that stuff that you hate and the benefits of doing that. So, yeah, I've really enjoyed my running.

Rachel Towell:

You've recently struggled with mental health. Can you give us some insight into your experience?

Greg Nunan:

Yeah. It definitely took a toll on me. I've been battling the depression and anxiety for quite a while. Back in 2014, and continued through 2015, it got very dark for me. I tried to battle through and use medication as a solution. While it helped, as I've found out, wasn't the solution and been a bit of a crutch. And I'll go into that a bit more.

Greg Nunan:

I kept my licensee informed all the way through with my battles, from 2014. In the end of 2016, I ended up in hospital with a staph infection in my arm and nearly lost my arm. Off the back of that, I was on antibiotics for quite a while. And that really destroyed my gut health. Didn't really understand how important that gut health is with mental health. So things really continued to spiral down from me.

Greg Nunan:

2017, 2018, a lot of pressures with running your own business as a sole practitioner and with all the constant changes in the industry. I was pretty much forced to focus on the day-to-day survival side of things, and really didn't open up to my wife and my family about how much I was struggling. I just put on the suit and tie and just fronted up and just kept pushing through.

Greg Nunan:

And then I really let my health go during that time. It was just one of those things, you get in a spiral or you grab what you can eat. You don't pay attention to what you're eating. You're drinking a lot of coffee and you're not doing the exercise. I really didn't notice at the time that my sleep was so destroyed. There was a period there for a couple of years where I just didn't have dreams. Those dreamy deep sleeps. In hindsight, it's been a significant alarm bell that I just did not pay attention to.

Greg Nunan:

After the knock with the arm and nearly losing it, I stopped drinking alcohol completely. I went for about 442 days without a drink. And then I found myself having one drink here or one drink there, and then I'd go off it for several months. And then the one drink here, one drink there, and then I tried to get away from it again. Also, through that period I've had a few significant life events; with losses of three friends and my son battling some health. And that really sort of broke me.

Greg Nunan:

I informed, in 2019, my licensee that I needed to sell and needed to get out for my own health. It was a really hard decision, after putting so much of my life into advising. And that process of selling the business, it crushed me. It wasn't an easy process to go through and it pushed me over the edge.

Greg Nunan:

In June 2019 I failed at taking my own life. So I'm probably one of the lucky ones who stuffed up and got through the other side of it. Yeah. So it wasn't an easy period, that's for sure. And I remember reading articles just after. I think we had lost 32 advisers to suicide within only a couple of months, with all the Royal Commission and all the pressures and all the changes and all the bad constant negative information that was coming out at the time. Yeah.

Rachel Towell:

Yeah, it's alarming numbers.

Greg Nunan:

Yeah.

Rachel Towell:

And you've been through so much, Greg, over such a long period of time. What did you think you found most helpful during your mental health journey?

Greg Nunan:

Oh, there's been a number of things that have really helped. At the tail end of it, is being able to look back and really break down that period, and go through step-by-step and look at the things where, while I was so lost and so just focused on the day-to-day, if there was some way that I had implemented these things that I am now, could have changed the path that I was on. I could have pulled it back sooner.

Greg Nunan:

But one of the first things that hit me was a Jordan Peterson dialogue about suicide. It was on a soundtrack by a British DJ called Akira The Don. He's come up with this new music genre, which is called Meaningwaves, where he's got people like Jordan Peterson, Dave Goggins, Jocko Willink, and some of their dialogues, their speeches, their podcasts, mixed it into tracks or dance tracks so you can just listen to it. And there was one on there around suicide. And I recommend anyone have a listen to it, it's pretty haunting but it's a great one to listen to.

Greg Nunan:

Then, from there, listened to more of the Akira the Don stuff, which really helped. And we're in a period now where we get to choose the content that we consume. We get to choose the food, the music, the news, the TV shows, the movies we watch. It's not just like the old days where you sit down and there'd be three TV channels. We get to get access to that. And starting to break away from that 24 hour news cycle, the talkback radio's, the negative press within the industry, and blocking all of that constant barrage out, made a big impact just over a period because you're not getting that constant negative reinforcement of all the bad things going on in the world. So that really helped.

Greg Nunan:

But also, I found that a lot of people within the industry, whenever we caught up, we were always talking about the Royal Commission or, "Has this changed?" or, "Has that changed?" We weren't talking about the great things within the industry. So it's cutting away from some of that as well, really helped.

Greg Nunan:

I started getting up early every day. No matter how bad I slept the night before I just set that routine; get up, start the day, make sure your circadian rhythm's in sync. And gradually doing that. I started really exercising, tracking all my exercise, hitting the gym four days a week, ocean swimming, running. As I said, hate running. But you push through that stuff that you hate and on the other side of it is just goodness. After 20 minutes of running, you hit that little high and you just feel fantastic. Then you keep pushing. You feel like you'll run forever some days. So I integrated that into my life.

Greg Nunan:

I focused on my sleep. Not paying attention to simple things as not having dreams when you sleep, or only getting four hours of sleep per night. For years, I had bad sleep and I didn't pay attention to how much of an impact that was having on my health, especially my mental health. It's not clearing the brain out, it's not defragging, it's not letting your body rest and grow. So I've really set a pretty strong sleep routine.

Greg Nunan:

Off the back of that, I completely changed my diet. Cut coffee out completely, going from four or six cups of coffee today to none. And it has been fantastic. Cut processed carbs, sugars, focused on really getting my gut health right. And that's been an amazing change.

Greg Nunan:

I'm reading books. One book I recommend around the gut health side is how to cure psoriasis, that goes into eczema, goes in all stuff. But the fundamental of it is getting that gut health right. And it makes massive changes. Another book is Allen Carr, The Easy Way to Stop Drinking. It's a simple process. And you get to the end of that book and you don't want to touch a drop of alcohol, because you just don't feel like you're missing anything. I've given it to a couple of people and they've done the same, and they've gone, "I just don't have that urge, that craving, that need for it."

Greg Nunan:

Now, one of the side effects of one of the medications that I was on was alcohol cravings would increase, but also the impact of alcohol would increase on this medication. So two beers would hit you like four, four beers would hit you like eight. I wasn't warned. I didn't know about that at the time. And trial and error on some of those different antidepressants can send you through hell and high water with different side effects. And so it is, unfortunately, a trial and error for some people when they go through the antidepressant side.

Greg Nunan:

And also practicing gratitude. I know it sounds a bit fluffy and a bit kumbaya for some people. It definitely did for me, I didn't think much of it. But a good mate of mine who runs an IT company ... he lives up near me ... he got me onto this little program called the Wake Up Warrior. And we went through it all. And part of that is it's taking that time aside to write down and practice your gratitude. Instead of getting trapped in that negative cycle, that 24 hour news cycle, or all the things that you've lost or all the bad things that are going on in your life, you take that step back and you look at the amazing things you do have in your life and really being grateful for that.

Greg Nunan:

And whenever I find myself spiraling down, I'll just say, "All right. I need to sit down. I need to focus on a few things I need to be grateful for." Set that time aside each morning and just do what I call a gratitude stack. And when I'm doing that gratitude stack, I find things just are better. It really helps you focus.

Rachel Towell:

They sound like all fantastic small changes that everyone should make.

Greg Nunan:

Yeah, it is. It's just making those little changes each and every day to your routine. And taking a step back to analyze the things that are in your routine that are not benefiting you makes a difference. Make those small little correct choices each day, and you end up down a better path.

Rachel Towell:

Now, you've also been giving your time to volunteering with a mental health support group in your local area. Tell us a little bit about the group, your role, and the impact that that has had on you?

Greg Nunan:

Yeah. This was a bit of an amazing little one. I can't remember how I stumbled along it. It's a group set up by the Northern Beaches Council and it's called the Gatekeeper Program. And I've actually got a online meeting about it tonight, where we all catch up and chat about some of the things that we've run into.

Greg Nunan:

But basically, what it is, is people who've had some sort of experience with mental health, whether it's in their family or personally, are involved in the community. And it's not; you're out there singing about it and making a whole lot of noise, but it basically gives you the ability to not only identify someone who may need support, it gives you the tools on how to approach and open those conversations up and where to guide them and how to guide them. Make sure they're, first, safe. Secondly, make sure that they've got access to all the different supports that are around locally as well.

Greg Nunan:

And it's a fantastic program to go through. I was really surprised at how effective the tools are. And I've used them on a number of occasions. Not only with close friends, I've used them with strangers on the street; where I've just spotted this guy and he was really struggling. I've used them with a mate of mine who's heavy in the soccer side and who's really worried about one of his mates, but also a number of the young guys that he coaches. So had a good chat to him around some of the things that we could do there. I've had it out in the surf where someone was struggling and you could just sort of pick up on ... when you go through the training, you know what to pick up on. And I was chatting with him.

Greg Nunan:

And had a real surprise when out in the middle of a soccer field one day. A guy that I was competing against. And all of a sudden he started opening up in the middle of the game. He had gone through a lot of struggles and lost his wife to cancer not long ago. And all of a sudden we're having a pretty serious conversation in-between games.

Greg Nunan:

So it's a fantastic little initiative by the Northern Beaches Council. And it's something that I think the industry could learn a hell of a lot from too, that's for sure.

Rachel Towell:

Well, it's great that you say that. Because I'd be interested to hear from you, what's one thing you'd say to an adviser who might be going through a hard time at the moment?

Greg Nunan:

Talk to your spouse.

Rachel Towell:

We've had these discussions before about opening up and talking to people and talking to those around you.

Greg Nunan:

Yeah. Yep. Yeah, sorry. Look, talking to your spouse, talking to your friends. Maybe there's a colleague in the industry that you can trust, you can open up with. Make sure you let people know exactly what you're afraid of and what you're struggling with. It might seem like an absolute mountain to you, but for someone else they'll come in and go, "No mate, that's simple. I'll give you a hand. Let's get this done. Let's get you through the next thing. Let's get it sorted."

Greg Nunan:

And don't be afraid to stop, take a step back and have that time out. Have a look at what your routine is. Look at the things that are stressing you out. Write them down. Look at the things that you can cut out of your life. Take away so you can just go, "Okay." Make things a bit more simple.

Greg Nunan:

And licensees really need to play a big role in this too. A good licensee will be providing the processes, the structures to help identify the warning signs for advisers who are struggling and the advisers that need support. And when you know what they are, they are there. And good licensees will be able to grab onto that. Other's won't, unfortunately.

Greg Nunan:

But yeah, really open up to your loved ones and make sure that they know. Because you'll be quite surprised at how they can help on simple things.

Rachel Towell:

I think that's a really important message.

Rachel Towell:

I want to thank you so much, Greg, for having the courage to speak so candidly about your own personal journey. Together, we can improve the mental health of everyone in the financial services industry, if we stand together and open ourselves up to the conversation, talk to each other, and ask for help if you need it.

Rachel Towell:

If you or anyone you know is struggling, this is not something you need to face alone. Reach out to Lifeline on 13 11 14, or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, if you need someone to talk to.

Rachel Towell:

Thank you so much for listening today.

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