This is the sixteenth episode in our Lived Experience series, where we speak with some remarkable people who have experienced and overcome adversity, and who are sharing their stories in a way that might help other people in need of support. 

In this episode we meet Jill Stark, a Melbourne-based journalist, best-selling author and mental health advocate.

Jill specialises in writing about social justice, mental health and health issues affecting Australians including the nation’s binge drinking culture.  It was while writing these award-winning articles back in 2011, published in The Age, that Jill had a reckoning with her own drinking habits.  

This led to Jill’s best-selling book High Sobriety: My Year Without Booze which explores drinking culture in both Scotland, where she grew up, and in Australia, through the lens of her own relationship with alcohol.

“I was internally wrestling with my own relationship with alcohol… and as I said in High Sobriety, during the week I writing about Australia’s alcohol problem and on the weekends, I was writing myself off…,” Jill says.

Jill’s shared openly about her life-long struggle with anxiety and depression, and experienced a mental health crisis at a time of her life where on the outside, she was experiencing career and writing success.

Her second book Happy Never After: why the happiness fairytale is driving us mad (and how I flipped the script) begins with her experiencing a panic attack at work. This was the start of what Jill says was the darkest period of her life.

“That was the last time I was in the newsroom for nearly five months…it escalated from there. I couldn’t work, I could barely leave the house…,” Jill says.

“I had thought, unconsciously…that once I had all of these external things that would prove that I was a worthy, valuable human, that I would feel whole, and I would feel happy and at peace with myself…I could have had Ryan Gosling under one arm and a Pulitzer Prize under the other, it wouldn't have been enough, because underneath at all, I didn't feel like I was enough. I felt like there was something missing.”

Jill’s hard-earned work on her mental health and her insights offer hope and connection to anyone doing it tough, because she knows what it’s like when you’re not OK.  

“To me good mental health is accepting all of yourself, not just the shiny parts we put up on Facebook and Instagram,” Jill says.

If you are affected by anything discussed in this episode, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or go to lifeline.org.au 

Jill’s latest book is When You’re Not Ok: a toolkit for tough times.

To find out more about Jill go to her website jillstark.com.au or follow her on Instagram @JillStark__ where she shares candidly about life, mental health and her advocacy work. 

ermha365 provides a range of mental health services designed to help people experiencing mental health challenges to thrive in the community.  

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Originally published as Episode 46: Lived Experience (Part 16) Jill Stark – alcohol, anxiety and mental health at Get Real: Talking mental health & disability

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