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Extreme athlete Steve Gurney opens up about his 20-year battle with depression

1 Jun, 2018 05:00 AM

Multisport Legend Steve Gurney speaks out about depression. Photo/ supplied

By: Emma Russell Emma Russell is a health reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Steve Gurney is speaking out about his 20-year battle with depression in a bid to help change the stigma around mental health.

As Men's Health Month starts today, Gurney has revealed that at the crux of his professional athletic career he was struck with a life-threatening leptospirosis infection that almost broke him.

"I was told I had to hang up my bike and it was devastating. My kidneys had failed and there was nothing I could do.

"Being told that was the end of my career set off a reaction in my brain that just sickened me and that's when the depression started."

For years Gurney tried to figure out what was going on in his head. He said he read books, had regular appointments with counsellors, took courses and it was really hard.

"I think the only reason I didn't suicide was because there was a little spark of belief that if I apply the same grit of determination to figuring it out as I did to my racing then maybe I'd find a solution."

And eventually he came up with simple habits and thought processes that helped him tackle his depression.

"Being aware was a big part of my recovery."

For Gurney, his depression stemmed from the need to prove himself.

Steve Gurney celebrating another win at Coast to Coast with founder of the event Robin Judkins. Photo/ supplied.

"Racing was my happy place but as it turns out my need to win was an underlying problem because it was trying to prove that I was lovable."

"I think this is really common in successful people because they feel that need to prove themselves and there's no right and wrong, that's just life," Gurney said.

Dealing with depression was no easy road but Gurney emphasised that how we respond to challenges determines attitude and state of mind.

"If you act happy and positive people respond better. Fake it till you make it is what I always say."

He said it takes courage to better ourselves but it's worth fighting for.

"It's amazing that when I share my story [others] open up about their experiences and it helps."

Gurney will be joining National leader Simon Bridges and radio presenter Paul Flynn at a Men's Health Trust networking breakfast at Stamford Plaza in Auckland on June 8.

Despite being told his infection back in 1995 would be the end of his career, Gurney went on to win another seven Coast to Coast races.

Gurney says he still participates but holds back on winning.

Steve's key messages:

1. Simple habits make a difference - make sure you're getting early nights and turn off the TV.

2. Get off Facebook - comparing your life to what's online can get you down but remember what people post online is never the full story.

3. Eat healthy - something that's repeated again and again but it makes a difference.

4. Exercise - even if it's just a walk.

5. Get out in the sun - soaking up vitamin D is so important even more so in these cold winter months.

6. Each night before bed write down three things you are grateful for - try it for a month.

7. Stay positive - read positive books, be around positive people, think positive.

WHERE TO GET HELP: If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357 (available 24/7) • SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7) • YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633 • NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (available 24/7) • KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7) • WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm) • DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757

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