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Gary Buckenara

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AFL icon/mental health speaker

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About me

  • Hawthorn Hawks
  • Sport
  • Australian Rules Football
  • AFL
An AFL legend who has seen both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, Gary Buckenara wants to share his story to try and help people understand the warning signs around how depression can affect anyone.

Providing an open discussion into his career and the events that happened throughout his football journey, Bucky touches on everything from his 4 Premierships and captaining his state in the State of Origin, all the way through to his brush with attempted suicide.

With a lifetime's worth of battling injuries and career setbacks, Bucky has also spent an enormous amount of time coping with personal grief. Most notably, is his sense of responsibility stemming from a tragic road accident that left his mother paralyzed while she was on the way to post a letter to Bucky.

With many further blows to his mental health to follow, including the loss of his money and assets (following a conflict with his house), an unsuccessful stint as a coach in Sydney, Bucky had the realisation that he had hit rock bottom.

It was here that he wrote a letter to his loving wife and kids, apologising for his failure and passing on his final goodbye, before heading to the South Wharf in Fremantle with the plan to swim out into the rip and leave everything behind.

With a mental battle that continued for 2 hours, often standing up to dive in but then feeling a force stopping him, Bucky returned to his family, passed the pre-written letter to his wife and broke down, acknowledging that he truly needed help to continue on.

5 years down the track, Bucky was able to find the right person to talk to and provide the needed strategies to successfully move forward with his life, still regularly attending sessions to stay on top of his mental state.

Bucky's story is aimed to help people understand that depression is something that generally happens down the track after tragedies, personal injuries, financial hardships, relationship breakdowns or any type of trauma, and wants people to understand this, especially if they are finding it hard to feel happy, noticed a change in their personality, or are shying away from engaging with family or friends. These can be signs of depression and can be indicators of the need to speak out and discuss this with your doctor, partner, a close friend or even call the mental health helpline for advice.

Key take-aways from Bucky's presentation:

  • Be aware of your feelings, are you finding it hard to enjoy your life, feeling unhappy and maybe shying away from meeting family and friends.
  • Be aware of your moods in terms of thoughts of hopelessness, getting angry over minor things, putting on a brave happy face in public but when alone the unhappiness returns.
  • Have you had major traumas in your past, financial, relationship or family, these traumas can trigger depression many years down the track, and even a small incident could be the catalyst to break you down? 
  • Once you realise that you need help and reach out for help to a family member, family friend or your GP, the darkness will slowly lighten, but you must find the right person to help you and one you feel a good connection with, it took me 5 years to find the right counsellor and from that point in time my journey to manage this terrible and silent disease, and to find purpose in life again.
  • Reaching out for help is your first step and this is the hardest one, and from there it gets better, but you must be aware of and understand your feelings on a daily basis to be able to manage anxiety and depression, as it is an ongoing and requires lifelong awareness for sufferers but a happy and normal life is definitely achievable with the right medications and support.

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