Amelia Chambers joined WiseTech more than 17 years’ ago in the eLearning team, training users on how to use our flagship software, CargoWise. After a brief stint in freight forwarding, Amelia found herself back at WiseTech which she says felt like “coming home”.
Amelia is a passionate mental health advocate and mental health first aid officer, and believes we need to normalize the conversation to break the stigma. In light of R U OK? Day on Thursday 8 September, we sat down with Amelia to hear about her personal mental health journey, strategies she used to strengthen her mental health, and why she believes we need to normalize the conversation to overcome the stigma.
Can you share a bit about your career journey with WiseTech?
I'm based in Auckland, New Zealand and I have been with WiseTech for two periods of time, for around 15 years altogether. I took a two-year gap in between when I went back to freight forwarding and customs, but I realized I didn't really enjoy it and I wanted to come back to what I was passionate about, which is learning and development.
I love working with people and teaching them new things, and that fits in really well with teaching people about our software, which is where most of my career at WiseTech has been. I originally did product training on-site with clients before moving into the e-Learning team, and I have now just recently moved across to the WiseTech Academy team.
When I left, my manager at the time said, “if you ever want to come back, just let us know”, so that's exactly what I did and it was like coming home. I don't think people stay with companies as long as I have or come back to companies if there’s nothing on offer. WiseTech is like a family, and you get to work with great people, in great environments and have great opportunities, so it was natural for me to come back and I don't think I'm going to leave again.
You're passionate about raising awareness and eliminating the stigma around mental health, why is this important to you?
For a lot of people when you mention mental health, the usual response is that it’s a taboo topic that we shouldn’t talk about. In my family, there’s always been people with mental health issues, so I always knew there were some people who coped differently than others. But what I've learned is that we actually do need to talk about it and have the difficult conversations.
After going through a journey with my own family and coming out the other side, I realized that there was just so much more that I needed to know. So, I decided to do a mental health first aid course, which is one of the best first aid courses you can do.
This training helps you identify some of the warning signs in others and you learn how to hold basic conversations and to broach the difficult topics with people. I, like many people that were in the course, had experience with somebody who had struggled with mental health and that was the reason that most of us were there. So that was my first big leap into it and I’ve found that I use those skills every day.
Can you share a bit about your own mental health journey?
I'm quite a high functioning, high performing person and I have a lot going on in my life. I'm always on the go, either working, volunteering, umpiring netball or looking after my family. I have two children, 18 and 26, and I’m a caregiver for my elderly parents. So there's all these stones that are piling on top of each other that all just seemed really insignificant at the time.
Then around two years ago I had an accident while I was umpiring and I suffered quite a serious concussion. I was off work for a period of time and I couldn't hold a conversation or drive a car. Suddenly I went from being a high performer, to barely able to function for two minutes at a time. That was actually my breaking point. All of the stones had piled up on top of me and I couldn't cope anymore.
I was crying all day, every day, I was struggling to get out of bed, I couldn't go out anywhere because I didn't have the energy or the focus. I wasn't allowed to drive or do my normal fitness routine, which is a huge part of who I am. I began thinking, what's the point?
I woke up one day and realized that I was the person on the other side struggling with their mental health. Through my mental health first aid training I was able to recognize that I wasn’t coping, and that I needed to go and see someone. So I booked an urgent doctor's appointment and I was diagnosed with clinical depression.
What were some of the ways you were able to get your mental health back on track?
I started regular sessions with a psychologist which was really helpful. In the beginning they were weekly, and then fortnightly, but now it’s just on-demand and whenever I feel like I need it. One of the best things I found was that it was so easy to talk about your problems with somebody who doesn’t know you and isn't allowed to tell anybody.
I’m also on daily medication for my depression, and I'm not ashamed of that at all because I know that when I forget to take a tablet, I can tell. If you had broken a bone, you would put a cast on it or if you had a headache, you’d take paracetamol. So taking medication for depression is really no different.
Learning to say no has also really helped me. For a yes person like me, that's really hard, but I’ve learned to let go of things and ask for help when I need it. When you get on a plane, they tell you to put your oxygen mask on before you help anyone else, and it’s the same with our mental health. You can't help somebody else if you’re struggling yourself.
My fitness is also really important to me, and I rarely go more than two days without doing something active. I'm very fortunate to have the Auckland Botanic Gardens just down the road, so I can go for a walk, a run or a cycle during the day when I need to. It could just be a 20-minute walk, but it makes a huge difference to my headspace. I also use the Calm app every day, and those meditations help me immensely.
How have you navigated your mental health journey at WiseTech?
When the depression first hit, I was lucky that my manager and I had worked together for many years, so I actually just called her and said, “I have to tell you something because it might impact my work.” She was really supportive and told me to take the time I needed and make any adjustments to my work or schedule.
When I swapped into the WiseTech Academy team recently, I hadn't actually told my new manager leading up to the switch. But I changed medication, and that was the catalyst for me to speak up because I knew that I might need to take some time to adjust.
A few of my close peers know that there's been a struggle, but there's probably a heap that have no idea. I don't mind that people know about my journey because that's how we normalize it and if a little bit of discomfort for me helps somebody else to normalize the conversation, then I’m happy to play my part.
Why is it important for you to share your story?
In Australia, one in five people suffer from mental health conditions and that's a broad spectrum. So that could be anxiety, depression, PTSD or anything else, and in New Zealand the number is similar at one in six.
That's one person in every home that feels like life's a struggle. When you look at the size of WiseTech’s Sydney office with 500+ people, that’s a huge amount of people that may be struggling with their mental health.
I'm very lucky that my children were the things that really kept me grounded and motivated to take that step to speak to somebody. So that’s led me to share my journey with others because it's actually normal.
As well, my youngest child is transgender and is currently transitioning as a female, so that's another one of the stones in my journey. Even though sometimes I get my pronouns mixed up and I get corrected, she knows that I’m trying and it’s a learning journey. My role is to make sure she’s happy and comfortable, but with this change comes a lot of ugliness in the world, so that's one of my big worries in life. But she's happy and that's the most important thing for me.
What can we do to increase awareness of mental health and help remove the stigma?
Learning to recognize the signs and ask the right questions. During my darkest days, my children knew I was going through something. They would both come to me and ask if I was okay, and being a parent, I would often say “yes, I’m fine”, but obviously they knew that I wasn’t.
One of the things that I learned in my training is to ask that question in a different way, so rather than asking if someone’s okay, you could say “I can see that you're struggling today, is there anything I can help you with?” or “what does help look like for you today?”
We need everybody to hold conversations with people and to ask what might be the tough questions, and to do it without judgment. R U OK? Day is a fantastic organization and they've got so many resources on their website about how to recognize warning signs and how to approach somebody that you think might be having a hard time.
I really think we should be asking each other if we’re okay every day, not just once a year. That’s probably the biggest thing that I can stress to people, that we actually have to have the conversations on a more regular basis to remove the stigma around it because it doesn't make you weak.
I may have clinical depression, but it doesn't make me weak. I'm still the same person. I still strive toward high performance. But we also have to acknowledge that it's actually okay if you fall short of some of those expectations, so we need to normalize the conversation and break down some of those stigmas.
This article talks about mental health, so speaking to a trusted support person, or contacting a helpline, may be helpful for you. For those in Australia, there are support contacts available on the R U OK? website. If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of others, seek immediate assistance by calling Triple Zero (000).