After losing his best mate to suicide two years ago, Matt Richards made a promise to himself that he’d do all he could to help others who might be facing similar challenges.
Through his fundraising, photography and voluntary work, the 32-year-old father-of-two is finding new ways to reach out to those in need.
The self-taught photographer launched his own podcast last month.
The one-hour show is yet another platform by which Matt hopes to get the community talking about mental health.
In his series of podcasts that share the same title as most of his endeavours – ‘Be Better Than Yesterday’ – Matt will interview high-profile Novocastrians to seek answers on how they deal with challenges.
“I want to learn about what struggles they’ve faced, and maybe still face, and what processes they use to overcome them,” he said.
“It’s about starting conversations, and hopefully learning from each other.”
Matt’s podcast kicked off with an interview with former NRL player and fellow Novocastrian Mark Hughes.
“I’ve had the privilege to get to know Mark over the last few months since joining his new gym, Air Locker at Kotara, so it was a comfortable conversation,” Matt said.
“We talked about his struggles and how he overcomes them and how he keeps his own mental health in-check.”
An array of Novocastrian identities are scheduled for upcoming episodes.
“I’ll be chatting with one of the best touch football coaches in the world, Karley Banks, who has also represented Australia in rugby league, touch football and cricket,” he said.
“Karley has gone through her own personal struggles after losing her Mum only a few years ago.
“I’ve also reached out to some other locals, including Silverchair’s Daniel Johns, Australian Air Force fighter combat instructor, Matt Hall, and Newcastle’s best surf reporter and surf commentator Tez McKenna.
‘Be Better Than Yesterday’ is Matt’s catchphrase.
It began after a few significant life-changing moments occurred within the space of two years.
Matt says his mum passed away very suddenly and he spent the final seven weeks by her hospital bed at the John Hunter Hospital.
Not long after her passing, Matt’s best mate took his own life, leaving behind a beautiful daughter and loving family and friends.
“We shared some amazing memories together including overseas holidays and being his best man at his wedding,” Matt said.
Within the space of a few weeks, another young person Matt had connections with also took their own life.
Sadly, Matt also became a first responder when a neighbour came to him for help, screaming in the middle of the street in the early hours of a morning.
Her partner had suicided while she was at work.
“It all threw me,” Matt said. “It made me question why people think exiting this world through suicide is the only way out of their personal struggles.
“There has to be more education and support and that starts here locally in our community.
“You can’t change yesterday. You can’t go back. You’ve got to start from where you are.
“It’s about being the best version of you.”
In October 2020, Matt began his journey as one of Newcastle’s mental health ambassadors by launching a fundraiser on NRL grand final night.
Raffling his favourite print, Matt had hoped to raise $1,000 for Lifeline Direct Newcastle and Hunter.
“The support was beyond amazing and very overwhelming,” Matt said.
“We raised $1,000 in 45 minutes. I just couldn’t believe it.”
Matt added the prize print itself was a metaphor for mental health, depicting a lone person walking along the beach from Merewether towards Bar Beach.
“That stretch of beach is usually full of beachgoers but, on this day, at that moment, there was just that one person on the sand,” he said.
“That person might look like they’re all alone, but they might have family and friends, work colleagues or team-mates just outside the picture.
“It resembles mental health – you’re not alone.”
Shying away from any reference to being superhuman, Matt says he is involved in so much community work because he “never says no”.
“I think I just put myself out there,” he said. “It’s how you learn.
“If looking at a photo on Instagram helps someone feel better about themselves and their life, then it’s the least I can do to help.”
Matt’s motivation, he says, is to be the best role model he can for his two sons first and foremost, as well as the students he teaches, the junior athletes he coaches in rugby league and touch football, and also his friends and family.
“I hope I am making them all proud of what I am trying to create through my photography, videography and my new podcast,” he said.
If you or someone you know needs support, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14.