Kelsey Browne On How Keeping Quiet About Mental Health Struggles Nearly Cost Her Career

Kelsey Browne has been scoring goals on the netball court for years now. As a midcourter for in the Super Netball League, she’s played a major role in not one but two premierships and even made the Diamonds team for the 2018 international season. But it’s her actions after the whistle blows that have secured her a spot on a list of the women who wow us: After overcoming a long-term battle with depression, she’s using her position to end the stigma of mental health.

Here, we sit down with the 27-year-old to chat triggers, teammates and her ambassadorship for Sleep At The ‘G.

Can you tell me a little about Sleep At The ‘G and why you feel so passionate about the cause?

Sleep At The ’G is Melbourne City Mission’s annual flagship event, raising awareness and vital funds for young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness. This is the seventh-year Melbourne’s holy grail of sport – the MCG – will host Australia’s largest sleeper event.

Mental Health issues play a huge role in youth homelessness and if untreated can be extremely damaging. I was keen to support the cause because I know how challenging life can be with these issues, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for young people who also have to deal with testing circumstances, no access to support or a roof over their head.

My home, family and safety are things I value highly, so I was eager to help raise awareness and funding for young people who don’t have these things. It’s important we help those who are struggling to find ways to live fulfilling lives with basic necessities – which I myself am so grateful to have.

I’m really excited to be an ambassador for Sleep At The ‘G 2019 and hope Melbourne City Mission reach its $1.2 million fundraising target so even more young people facing homelessness get the support they need.

You’ve been open about your battle with depression in the past. When were you first diagnosed?

I was first diagnosed at 16 years of age. I was going through puberty and high school but my parents knew something wasn’t right. I was on and off anti-depressants from 16 to 21 years old.

How has this impacted your netball career?

In the early days, it was sometimes difficult to communicate what I was going through and there was a stigma around being weak if you admit to having a mental illness or that it was just something you could ‘snap out of’. When I was bad I couldn’t get out of bed to get to training or work and would often lie about the reason why I wasn’t able to make commitments. I missed a National Championships because I couldn’t face leaving the house or seeing my teammates or dealing with the pressure of sport.

As I became more accepting (which took its time) I realised that speaking up is being strong, that this is something many other people deal with on a daily basis and if I could have the courage to speak up, then it might just help one other person in a similar situation.

Elite sport is extremely rewarding and extremely challenging all in one. You’re exposed to large amounts of criticism every time you show up, some days the physical requirement of you is immense and the mental fatigue just as much, but I’ve found sport to have such a positive influence on my mental wellbeing. I definitely still have days where I struggle and I probably always will.

Were you open with your team about your struggles? If yes, how did they react?

I wasn’t always and used to find it incredibly difficult to share. Now, I would say I’m extremely open. I’d speak to anyone who asks me about it because I find it cathartic and hopefully I can give people a bit of an insight into my life. I haven’t always felt like this, but I’m so lucky to have incredible family and friends, amazing teammates, a supportive club that allows me to be me and doesn’t question or judge me. They only ever want to help me when I’m struggling and keep me upbeat when I’m feeling good. I’m very grateful for this.

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📸 @aussiediamonds

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What are the biggest triggers for you?

It sounds silly but most of the time it’s getting frustrated or caught up in things I can’t control. It can also be when I take on too many things and say yes to every social occasion or work opportunity that comes my way. I need to have balance.

How have you learned to manage these triggers?

I’m much better at recognising when I’m slipping and when I need to slow down. Everything I do is at 100 miles per hour and I can forget to take time for myself, to relax and rejuvenate so I can continue to give the way I want to. I still find it challenging to ask for help and have times when I don’t immediately know how to fix the problem or what strategies to use. Sometimes it takes me a few weeks to find my feet again. But most of the time, I recognise it, speak up and change things.

What do you know now that you wish you did when you were first diagnosed?

That there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach and your experience will always be different to someone else’s. My advice to women who might be struggling with their mental health is that you won’t always have the answers and you definitely won’t want to ask for help – but most of the time that’s the very BEST thing you can do.

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The past 10 days have been some of the most amazing but emotional of my life and this has been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. While it may not make sense to some, this decision makes sense hopefully for my future and longevity in this game and for my life outside of it. Talk about a ride! ⚡️ Noeline and the @sunshinecoastlightning gave me an opportunity to spread my wings, leave the comfort of home and see what I could achieve with some tough love and belief behind me. We formed a team that became a family and together we invested every inch of ourselves to have two of the most incredible years creating history and building a club with a culture that is absolutely unparalleled. Personally, 2018 challenged me more than I thought I could handle away from the court and emotionally away from my support crew back in Victoria. But I made a new “home” in the people at Lightning and made memories that are now and will remain some of my most treasured. I leave Lightning as a better, more resilient player and person and will forever be grateful of my time spent up north with some of the most influential people in my life. To my teammates, coaches, support staff, the Sunny Coast locals and the incredible fans – I cannot thank you enough for taking me in as family. A corner of my heart will always be yellow!! 💛 I’m so excited about the opportunity to join Magpies Netball and I’m ready to come home with extra tools in my kit and some more experience. This move comes with the unknown, with pressure and with new tests but I’m wired to love that side of sport. Can’t wait to meet my new team and be back training alongside my fave @madirobinson_ #SIDEBYSIDE #stillaCatsfan

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Are there any misconceptions about living with a mental health condition that you’d like to clarify?

You can’t just snap out of it or control it. You’re also not weak. Some of the strongest, most resilient people I have met deal with mental illnesses. 

Sleep At The ‘G is taking place tonight, with over 2,000 people expected to brave the cold and gain a small glimpse into the life of a youth experiencing homelessness. It’s not too late to support the cause by donating at www.sleepattheg.com.au

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