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07 October 2020
By SARAH MATTHEWS
You can be the proverbial life of any party – outgoing, entertaining and guaranteed to generate a few laughs.
But sometimes, putting a smile on someone else’s face is a lot easier than putting one on your own.
Horsham’s Courtney Gerdtz is on a mission this month to spread the message, ‘It’s okay to not be okay’.
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Black Dog Institute research shows one in five people experience symptoms of mental illness each year, most commonly anxiety and depression.
Last month, Ms Gerdtz, 31, put up her hand to say she was one in five, hoping it would encourage others to do the same.
She signed up for Black Dog Institute’s ‘One Foot Forward’ campaign, to show people living with mental illness they are not alone.
The campaign, which runs throughout October, also raises money to support research into early detection, prevention and treatment for mental health disorders, along with funding vital support services for the most at risk.
Ms Gerdtz committed to walking 40 kilometres in the hope of raising $500, but after ticking off the goal in a couple of days, she decided to walk or run an extra five kilometres for every additional $100 raised.
“This might be the silliest thing I’ve decided to do, but why not make the extra challenge,” she joked.
“I’m actually overwhelmed by the support I have received already. I’ve had friends who have donated say they would love to walk some of the kilometres with me and my nieces are very excited to do a few walks with me.
“Since I first shared my fundraising post on Facebook, I’ve had a couple of friends message me and reach out for a chat, which is why I am doing this.
“I want people to know they are not alone. It’s okay to not be okay and there’s no shame in seeking that extra help and support.”
Ms Gerdtz said she had battled with mental health issues for almost two years.
“It’s amazing how good you get at hiding it,” she said.
“I have had some traumatic events happen in my life that really affected me and I’m also the sort of person who likes to keep my feelings and emotions to myself.
“So, when something happened, I would bury it within and not deal with it properly.
“There had been so many times that I wanted to talk to those close to me and let them know what was going on and what I was experiencing, but I didn’t want to be that friend, daughter or sister who was a burden or a worry for others.”
Ms Gerdtz has been seeing a counsellor for the past 15 months and said seeking professional help was her saving grace.
She said her counsellor was like a mentor, helping her become more aware of her emotions, able to recognise them, talk about them and open up about them.
“Being more open with my family and friends is the most important thing I have learnt – letting people in and having them try to understand, even if they don’t,” she said.
“Now, I let them know how I am feeling and what’s going on inside.
“I wish I had spoken up sooner, as being honest and talking to those close to me has really helped.
“That’s what I want people to get out of this – that it’s okay to ask for help. My counsellor has been amazing and has helped me in so many ways. It wasn’t easy to do and take that next step, but it was what I needed.”
Along with support from her counsellor, family and friends, Ms Gerdtz has also benefitted from the companionship of her cat, Kevin.
“Kevin is another thing that has had a positive impact on my life,” she said.
“He has so much personality and to come home and have someone so excited to see you every day is really nice and such a positive experience.”
Ms Gerdtz said although it was daunting to discuss her experience in public forums, she hoped sharing her story would encourage other people to recognise it was okay to seek help.
“Even if this helps only one person go that next step, then it’s all worth it,” she said.
“I also want to raise some money to keep the important services going.”
As of yesterday, Ms Gerdtz had raised $1200 and walked 24 of her 75-kilometre goal.
People can follow Ms Gerdtz’s journey or make a donation online at www.onefootforward.org.au/fundraisers/courtneygerdtz.
The entire October 7, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!