Mental Health: The Importance of Conversation with Tony Arena

me&my health up podcast episode #76 – Transcript

Tony Arena 0:00
Well, the greatest life lesson I learned was about seven weeks ago when I fell unconscious in the change rooms at the beach club, and I was gone for money my heart started beating at 300 a minute, I had a cardiac arrest, and I didn’t know what was happening, the last thing I remember is just feeling terribly dizzy, and then being woken up by people saying, Tony, you’ve just had a heart attack, and that 9% of people that have this survive.

So what has taught me is to do the things now. Do the things now that you love, that you enjoy, that you’ve been putting off all your life, and I hope that my lesson sends a message out to the people that are listening, don’t wait.

Anthony Hartcher 1:01
That was Tony Arena, an incredible guy, and I say incredible, because it’s not only the first challenge he’s had in his life, it is he’s had a life of challenges, and what our respect with tiny is his ability to bounce back from challenges and then to look back and reflect on those challenges as a learning experience, and then taking the learnings forward in the rest of his life, and he’s done this throughout his career.

This episode is a reflection on Tony’s career, how he’s helped his mental health, and how he’s helped the mental health of others. So we’re going to be talking about men’s mental health, which also applies to women’s mental health, and you’re going to hear Tony’s version of his story, his life events, and his top tips to help him that can also help others, and so this is another insightful episode of me&my health up. I’m your host, Anthony Hartcher, a clinical nutritionist, and lifestyle medicine specialist.

So here it is. Welcome, Tony. Welcome to the me&my health up podcast. How are you today?

Tony Arena 2:20
Yeah, I’m well, thanks, Anthony podcast.

Anthony Hartcher 2:24
So great to have you on and you know, we go way back and you you’re a great storyteller and a man have plenty of wisdom to pass on to, to help with, I guess, the mental health of anyone out there that that may be struggling and you certainly got some good tips to share with us today.

Tony Arena 2:45
I think you’re getting carried away, calling me wise, but anyway, we’ll see how we get we’ll see if I can. I might say something was here, but thankfully you’re recording it. So I’ll listen to it later and maybe learn from it myself.

Anthony Hartcher 3:03
Maybe the gray hairs are giving away the wisdom. Yeah, but for the listeners who don’t know you, please share a little bit about yourself.

Tony Arena 3:16
Yeah, okay. So I started out my career. I started out law went into law and pretty soon I was doing criminal law. They say you know, the choose, sometimes you never choose the job, the job chooses you. I was sitting down with an unemployed lawyer and I got a call from the Aboriginal legal service in there and they said, Look, we’re looking for a lawyer, and I thought, finally someone’s discovered me and now they know that I’m waiting here. Start my brilliant career.

Little did I know that they were going through the unemployed list of lawyers, I was and I was at the top. So I started with A alphabetical order that is ringing through there is Lloyd hired me and a guy called Alexander. So they’re not two A’s off the top of the list and I started working down at Nowra with the Aboriginal legal service, and I did that for six months, and thoroughly enjoyed criminal law, and then I went to work at public solicitor after that in Sydney and pretty well, two or three years after that, I left to go to the bar and I became a criminal barrister, and that was my career for about six years in 1987. I left to become a US broker

Anthony Hartcher 4:39
You got any stories to share around your criminal barrister days if there is a particular case that stood out for you.

Tony Arena 4:51
Look, I was I’ll tell you I was doing a lot of murder cases. Eventually, I was elevated somehow after the Supreme Court section, so I can’t tell you, I don’t want to upset your listeners, they might be listening to this at the wrong time of the day, but all sorts of gruesome crimes by our I peered for someone who put an axe through his mates head while they were sitting in the bath because I argued about the phone bill, I had people arguing and drunken brawls, I had mothers charged with the murder of their baby, and they were totally innocent.

So to uncover the facts there, and try and provide justice for someone was really fulfilling, and I just loved the excitement of the criminal trial, defending somebody, you know, the great question I was always asked was, how do you defend someone when they are guilty? And I would always say, so I never afford that luxury of coming in at my client is guilty, if I conclude the client is guilty, who else has he gotten the world or she, so my role was to just defend before the court that to the best of my ability, and so, you know, Anthony, talking about what you learn in life lessons, my first bit of training taught me to be, to take the other point of view, and lawyers are always trying to screen and test propositions and this convert very well in the courtroom necessarily work outside the courtroom.

When I went into sales, I, well, I realized that the whole point of selling wasn’t to argue with the outcome or find the alternative viewpoint, but it was to try and get on with it. So then how long it took me to retrain myself in that regard, but I’m on a call myself today fully converted, by law really helps me in, in business, because it does still force me to, you know, screen and test propositions and not just accept things as I see them, but I’ve also had to learn to, to be a salesman, as a business broker, that’s what I do.

Anthony Hartcher 7:29
And it’s probably what I’ve experienced being, or working with you alongside you in the, in the growth rooms, which we’ll get onto but, you know, I always saw you as a person that could relate to all levels. So, and I think it probably stems from those criminal barristers days when you said, you know, in order to best defend them, you had to get along with them and understand them and who they are and, and, you know, build a friendship, so to speak. So to really get into the foot, the best case forward on their behalf.

So, I think I think it served you well in terms of them being able to help men who are struggling with their mental health, to relate to them and I think you need that the ability to relate to someone before they will listen, and you’re very good at that I could always see that come across.

Tony Arena 8:23
If you’re defending someone, you do have to get their confidence. It’s like with a client in the real world today, I have to get that person’s confidence but a criminal defendant, someone who’s charged with an offense, they need to be able to tell you what went on, they need to be able to trust you. They need to be able to work with you to the end and that relationship that you’re forming early on is very ordinary, I think Anthony whatever we’re doing the importance of the relationship this is the norm and it’s just about everything when you’re talking about your family or business or a one on one relationship with a customer that trust if they trust you they’ll come with you.

Anthony Hartcher 9:16
And what did you find that’s worked well for you around developing trust in relationships and building that rapport?

Tony Arena 9:27
You know, the first five minutes of meeting I had with a new client, it’s all about listening, trying to find out what’s going on in that person’s trying to find out why they’re there, and really, study ask myself the questions, you know, am I going to be of assistance here? Once I find out what the pain is, what the problem is what what we need to overcome?

Then I can start delivering on my experience my solution but unless I know what the problem is, I can’t solve it, I can’t start solving it. So the answer is really? Yeah, just it’s listening. It’s just saying empathetic and, and listening to what people are saying.

Anthony Hartcher 10:19
And it’s probably what, you know, in terms of when I was working with you in this growth room, you know, I saw you as a very effective facilitator, based on, I guess, those skills that you just mentioned, that you’ve developed over these years.

So you want to tell us a bit more about this growth room that I keep alluding to? And, and how people can create this in there, in their social circles? You know, how could they facilitate the power of what we got out of the growth room working together? And communicating, listening, talking, conversing? How could people do this in their everyday lives?

Tony Arena 11:02
Well, that was a great lesson and we’re now we’re talking about the growth rooms of the Banksia project. When you and I first met, we were trying to facilitate this, we weren’t trained as psychiatrists, or psychologists or even counselors, we were just trained in some fairly basic skills, to listen to people, to not judge people, to allow people to get things off their chest that they want us to get off their chest and the beautiful therapy or simply someone talking about what’s going on in their life, in a group of their peers.

The growth room, as you know, as we were co-facilitators in this room, was a wonderful opportunity for people to safely say what’s going on in their life without someone jumping in and saying, Oh, really? Is that what happened to you? Or do they know that? You shouldn’t be like that, or why don’t you go and do this, we didn’t charge we didn’t offer advice we just the robot was that people could almost solve their problem or get on the path of solving the problem by talking about it in a safe environment.

What we learned was that this whole myth of men not talking, it’s just not right. Men will talk. It’s just that in the typical environments, men find them in with other men where they’re expected to match up or with women, where they’re expected to match up to certain expectations, or certain role models that have been ground into them from the earliest of ages.

Leaves men often fenceless when they fail and what these men learned was to failure wasn’t that bad. and that was the magic and simple magic of people coming together. Now you say how can people use that in their lives? Well, we’ve all got friends, and the last thing we want to become as someone’s you know, counselor, always giving people advice, but I think if you’ve got your eyes and ears open, you can see someone who’s struggling and can handle that very gently and do you think they need a friend just gently offer handouts say, Look, if ever you want to talk, Now, not everyone will respond to that. but at least if they know you’re there, you might be the only person in their life that year that’s offered that they may, they may have a friend but not a friend that they can talk to like that.

And so I think that’s what we can do in our everyday life. Just take keep aware, watch out, don’t barge into people’s lives, but be there if you can offer a helping hand.

Anthony Hartcher 14:09
What is the key? I guess, signals that someone should be looking out for in terms of this awareness? Because you mentioned, you know, be aware, are there any Telltales signals that someone might be giving away in terms of they need help? And that’s the time to check in with them.

Tony Arena 14:31
Ah, yeah, because we had it easy in the growth rooms. We just told God to talk about your issues. So we didn’t have to be to detective. Did we, in our, in our facilitators or even as fellow members of the room that looks, I suppose if someone changes their demeanor with you, or they don’t talk to you as much or they don’t talk where they normally would be turning up or they’re not laughing as much as they normally would. Or you know that in their business, let’s say now, right in the middle, in the middle of this pandemic, you might know about what that person is going through.

As far as their business is concerned, a lot of people are having to turn their life upside down and we’ll talk a little bit more about this later on as well. So a lot of people are having to revalue what it is that they should be doing in their life and revalue their life really and so there’s not necessarily an answer to that problem that you can provide, but you can at least dig a little bit and, and just be there for somebody.

But if you know, you can, maybe gently probe and say, look how things go, and how things going in your business, and, or how things go in at home, and they’ll talk to you, if that’s the right relationship you might get. You’d be surprised once the doors open, the floodgates are open, and suddenly, you might be talking to that person on a regular basis, maybe even offering a helping hand, maybe giving money, maybe then giving advice if they say to you something like I don’t know what I’m going to do. That’s a little more of an opening for you to say, Well, let’s look at this, look at the options here. What do you want to do? What’s open to you.

Anthony Hartcher 16:29
And the other thing, the growth room really helped facilitate was creating that safe space that you alluded to earlier, and I think, you know, often in the modern Western world, we’re very busy, and we have appointments after appointments, and I think it’s not very good timing in terms of, you know, you feel notice the signals that sound a bit off and not themselves, to them, approach the subjects and then realizing you’ve got a meeting, you know, five minutes after you’ve asked the question, and not having that nice time to allow to hear them out.

Because I think that, you know, often if someone feels that you’re rushed or not in a state to receive what they want to tell you, then they won’t tell you, because they just think I don’t want to trouble you, you look, you look seem busy.

So what I really loved about that growth room is we actually all came there for a common reason to help our mental health, and we’d all be open about where we’re at, and we had the time to hear people out and everyone had equal time.

So what are your comments around creating that safe space or approaching the subject at the right time?

Tony Arena 17:47
Well, you can do it. You can do it formally, if there’s a group of men that make let’s just take the men situation, women can do this as well and it can be mixed. A guy that I know who was public speaker and a compare, he told me about something that happened his way in the eastern suburbs., and I told him about the growth rates, and he says, Look, we do this now informally.

A couple of us lost some classmates and we all started questioning. What’s it all about? What are we all striving for? So they just meet at the pub, but it’s not to talk about football, it may be to talk about football, but at some stage in that meeting, nice day unload, and the others listen. So that’s an informal growth room and there are so many forms of that antonyms out there, the one that we had experience of was one particular formal setup, that you can have informal setups.

Where were people that normally have a group, or get together or a gathering, turn one of those into let’s talk about what’s going on in your life and that, that introduction of a safe space, or a might be a mater might be someone you’ve never considered a mate. But someone who gives you the clue might say, Look, I’m really suffering and other people I feel for. I mean, I’m a business broker, it’s, it’s a stress on me if I don’t get the job done.

If I say I’m going to sell someone’s business and I can’t sell it. That’s stressful, any doctor is looking after a patient, any nurse looking after a patient, you you’ve got clients that you look after their wellness. There’s pressure on all of us in those situations to deliver and we might wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a client or a case.

So we don’t know saralee clock off at five o’clock, anybody who’s responsible for someone else in this world, professionally or otherwise, has that person’s welfare on their mind, and they’re the people that I’d be looking to help as much as possible in this environment I’ve been you imagine what’s going on in our hospital system. I go to Twitter, and I listen to the doctors, and the nurses, and they just, they’re just about spent, but you know, they’re so devoted to their job that some of them have to quit under the pressure, but some of them just keep plugging away when I really admire those people.

So yeah, the growth rooms were a fantastic learning experience for us.

Anthony Hartcher 20:54
And I think the other thing that worked well around the growth rooms was that regular time that will be committed to one another to meeting and, you know, turning up every time at that time of that month, and like, because you can think about like, like, you mentioned, that scenario of those mates that met at the pub, they probably had a certain, you know, they meet once a week or once a fortnight, but it is that having that prioritize really helps your mental health, you know, having that space where you can talk freely and openly without getting any judgment or, and having those people there to support you and listen and, and to know that there is support and listeners, and that don’t necessarily have to have the answers. It’s just more being able to be heard and listened to and supported.

So I think that was the other thing that really helped or was having that frequency and that’s that preventative time or that investment into the mental gym so to speak. It’s like, yeah, yeah.

Tony Arena 22:12
It’s been wonderful for me because I’ve gone on in and created others. Throughout the end of that first year, I went and did a mental health first aid course is anyone’s listening to this and thinks that you don’t need Mental Health First Aid training yourself. Think again, because the Despite likes CPR course.

Mental Health First Aid, teaches you what to look for, and teaches you what to do if you strike it. Now, if you do strike someone in trouble, it’ll teach you how to gently all the things we learned in our rooms, gently approach it, find out what’s going on and when necessary, refer to the professional and it’s so easy to do one of these courses, and then CPR could save someone’s life and so could Mental Health First Aid and Australia’s a leader in the world in teaching Mental Health First day that’s taught in so many countries, and it was just born in that allow Melbourne, Australia.

So I heartily recommend that, and then I went on to create a website called Mental Health you for people who want to just go in and download a template. So in the workplace, the workplace, and I know that some workplaces are much more advanced than this, but many workplaces make it to this level, they say oh, well, if someone is in mental health, if they’re struggling, we’ll call in the Employee Assistance Program and we’ll call someone in when it’s too late.

So I think that the disruption of people working at home has thrown this all out to Anthony, but the workplace is where some people are either totally happy or totally unhappy, and in between this about the rest of the 70%. So most, most people are unhappy in their work.

Unfortunately, that’s the worldwide studies and that doesn’t mean necessarily that you need a mental health solution to that but quite often thinking about the people that you employ, to the level of trying to make that as enjoyable and as stress-free as possible. You need a mental health policy, which is a proactive approach to mental health in the workplace.

Anthony Hartcher 24:52
And what is fundamental around that mental health policy so what would you say would be the top three things workplaces should be doing for their employees.

Tony Arena 25:06
First, again, go back to the earlier question, being aware of being alert, watching for changes, taking opportunities to find out about your people, whether they’re happy.

So they have two lives, they have a life outside the workplace, and life inside the workplace, and the employer has much more control over what happens inside the workplace. The employer can assist with what might be happening outside because it’s the one person you’re still dealing with the one person. So I’d say awareness, I would say, make the workplace more fun and enjoyable, having regular games and regular get-togethers and regular non-work activities to do and I suppose, thirdly, you know, just really understanding who it is that you’re employing.

And if you were to chore and list up of six main things that that employee does in your workplace, and ask that person to score each of those activities on a one to 10 for enjoyment, and if you find out that the six things that someone’s doing in your workplace, they hate doing, guess what your productivity is about your productivity level for that employees about 10%. If you can bump those scores up a bit, and maybe even cancel some of those activities and find other activities.

In other words, what’s this person good at? And am I utilizing that in their role? It’s not the thing that comes on a CV on the CV is I can do Excel, and I’m well organized and on, you know, I can work on my own and autonomously all that stuff. But how about finding out about the person? So when I advise anybody about drawing up their CV? The first thing I’d say is, I can’t see the person who’s the person that I’m going to employ, give me the right person, and I can train that person. But if you’re the wrong person for the job, nothing of training is going to help that person become a productive employee. That’s basically it.

Anthony Hartcher 27:27
Yeah, so it’s really making sure the human comes out, and the resume as opposed to just, I guess, letters on a page, so to speak, is that

Tony Arena 27:37
You can take off all those boxes, I can tell you that 20 things that most resumes or CVs have and that’s all about, you know what they’re good at, but, but really sad, the last 10 resumes that I read, but who are you who, who’s What’s this person that’s going to be part of my organization, tell me about, tell me about you. Tell me about how you how you tick, and where you perform best.

Anthony Hartcher 28:08
Yeah, I’ll include a link to the mental health policy that you mentioned in the show notes so that listeners can go directly to the link and download that template, which they can then create their own mental health policy.

So that’s a great, great resource for particularly employers and then for employees, it’s making sure you do your resume so that it’s, it’s actually telling the employer who you actually are, what you love doing, and who you are as a person and as opposed to just all your achievements and what you’re great at, yeah,

Tony Arena 28:51
Achievements and skills, but now tell me who you are.

Anthony Hartcher 28:56
From all this, Tony, in terms of your growth room, your background as a criminal lawyer, barista, then into a business broker, what has really, you know, change for you like, what would you say that you’ve taken away as key life lessons, so to speak, out of that journey?

Tony Arena 29:21
Well, the greatest life lesson I learned was about seven weeks ago when I fell unconscious in the change rooms at the beach club and I was gone for the money. My heart started beating at 300 a minute I had a cardiac arrest and I didn’t know what was happening.

The last thing I remember is just feeling terribly dizzy, and then being woken up by people saying, Tony, you’ve just had a heart attack. That wasn’t strictly a heart attack because a heart attack is from the other side. The plumbing of your life, the arteries that carry the blood to the heart, this was just a freak event with the rhythm of my heart. And that 9% of people that have this survive.

So again, Anthony, on the first day saw there was someone luckily, coming into the shed that saw this, they went and grabbed the biggest, toughest guy in the club to try and break my chest by doing CPR, and he almost succeeded. Seven weeks later, I’m still a little bit sore, but I’m grateful that he made me so sore because he saved my life and he saved my brain by pushing that blood around into my brain to make sure that I didn’t have any brain damage, and wait for the defibrillator to arrive, which was handy.

So if you talk about luck, that people that were around me, saved me. You know, obviously eternally grateful that they were there, and they had the expertise to be able to bring me back to consciousness with the assistance of the defibrillator, and now seven weeks later, I don’t know if anyone listening has had that experience, but what we’re then talking about, just in this conversation, Anthony is all about, you know, helping people and finding out who you are as a person.

And what It has taught me is that loss, you’re not gonna, we’re not gonna live forever, we might not be there till the end of the year, we might not be there till the end of the weekend, you just don’t know, and how often in our lives do we say? I can’t do that when you know when the time’s right? Ah, look, I’ve got plenty of time to do that. Well, you may have plenty of time, but you may not have a lot of time. and if I can imagine that I hadn’t been bought back, what things would I have regretted that I hadn’t done based on our you’ve got plenty of time to do that.

So what has taught me is to do the things now. Do the things now that you love that you enjoy, that you’ve been putting off all your life? And I hope that my lesson sends a message out to the people that are listening, don’t wait. Don’t wait till the time’s right. Don’t wait till necessarily, before that should happen in your life before you give yourself permission to be who you want to be, and I’m a lucky guy. tremendously lucky.

That’s not to say that I’m now living the perfect existence, because the person that woke up on the floor seven weeks ago is the same person that went down to the floor. The difference is, I now get the opportunity to slightly different insight into where I want to go and what’s gonna stand in my way.

We’re always struggling, even the people that might walk away from this podcast signed by That’s it, I’m going to do what I’ve always wanted to do. Where’s that piano teacher? Where’s my singing teacher, where’s that holiday that I’m going to take? Don’t be too hard on yourself. He can’t suddenly turn your life into that but start thinking about it. And stop thinking that we’re gonna be here forever.

Anthony Hartcher 34:02
Valuable, would say a tiny and great insight into the life and not taking it for granted and living each day. to the fullest, essentially, doing what you love, you know, hanging out with people you love, giving love, receiving love, and yeah, just really embracing life or for its fullest.

As opposed to, as you said, taking it for granted and think you’re going to be around and one day you’re, you’re you know, do something that you want to do, as you said, you know, you need to think well you just don’t know when that time is gonna come so, you know, live the dream as much as you can and or work towards living the dream.

So a very valuable insight there. Tony really appreciates you sharing the story and You know, sharing all your experience around men’s mental health and mental health in general, and what people should do to be better supported by others around in that mental health space.

So certainly having that awareness, you know, being all is not judging the person. and just you’re providing them the space to share and, and show your support by sitting in that space comfortably and listening without jumping to, you know, Mr. Fixit or, you know, problem solving mode. So, if you got any further concluding words you’d like to leave the listeners with?

Tony Arena 35:49
Yeah, look, I suppose. If you’re talking about mental health, we’re sort of relying on ourselves to come up with some answers may be asked some questions and the mental health spectrum, or it goes from something very small to something very big, something very small could be happening in your life. That’s quite big. Don’t trust yourself, and say, it’s just small. Something that you think is very big could be happening in your life. But the simple disclosure and consultation with someone can make that very small, don’t trust your judgment.

And, you know, Anthony, in those rooms that we were in, we often ask the question, Is this better than therapy.

And you remember, without naming names, but one of the participants in the room who was just going through different therapists to find the right one and just by talking about it offered him the opportunity to think that maybe there was someone else that was better.

So I suppose your first stop, may or may not be your last stop, you might find someone who helps you a little bit, but you want someone who’s going to help you a little bit more, that could be a personality clash, and I suppose that we, we concluded, I think you and I did that both are good.

Just having someone to talk to is good, that talking to a professional is also good. So don’t try and work it out yourself. Take every opportunity to confide in people that are around you and look for other people to know they’re around you that you might be able to help and keep pushing on to find your solution. It’s there it’s there. If you look hard enough, I suppose

Anthony Hartcher 38:12
What are your go-to Resources Tony, you know if you’ve got particular apps or particular websites or people that you listen to or follow that really help you on your mental health journey.

Unknown Speaker 38:28
Look, just like a great opportunity for meditation comes at four in the morning when I wake up and I can’t get back to sleep now. I don’t know what goes on there, my brain just says hey, we’ve had enough sleep here.

Tony Arena 38:45
Let’s get moving, and I say it’s only four o’clock What are you talking about? So meditation helps me there. I’m an absolute failure when it comes to meditation formal meditation during the day but you know as I speak to you now Anthony on promising to myself that I’ll do better in that regard.

Look, my before I had before I fell over and collapsed. I was exceedingly fit, but not necessarily healthy. I was pushing it. I’ve always had exercise and food at the top of my regime and sleep and I get each of those three except when I can’t get back to sleep at four o’clock, but generally, I can not do it then half an hour three-quarter of an hour planning the day. So yeah, exercise, right to sleep, and meditate when you can.

Anthony Hartcher 39:48
Awesome tips and yeah, we’ll wrap it up there. Tony. I really appreciate your time. sharing all that your experience and you know what works for you around mental health and What helps the workplace? Do mental health better in terms of fine finding that right fit of employee? It’s been a great discussion. Very insightful, and it’s always a delight and pleasure talking to you, Tony. So thanks again.

Tony Arena 40:19
Thanks for the opportunity. Good luck. Good luck to you.

Anthony Hartcher 40:25
Sir, I turn to the listeners. As always, thank you for listening in. If you’ve certainly enjoyed the episode, please share it with others to help them and stay tuned for more insightful episodes of me&my health up.

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