BEN Burgess shares his mental health journey so others can benefit.
"It's about getting support, making connections with others, breaking down the stigma and having open conversations and letting people know there is help out there," says Burgess, RUOK's first community ambassador for Newcastle.
Burgess, 34, who recently opened Real 365 Collective gym in Wickham, is partnering with Newcastle business Doughheads in November to raise funds for RUOK.
To promote conversation around mental health, people are encouraged to buy a "real talk" Doughheads donut and share it with a friend who might be struggling. On November 23, Real365 Collective will host a competition to further the cause.
After meeting Doughheads founder and fellow fitness lover Anna Farthing, Mr Burgess asked for her help.
Novocastrian Burgess was 13 when he was diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder and depression.
"For the first few years I isolated myself, I basically didn't leave the house for months on end," he says.
Supported by family and prescribed medication he continues to take, he sought help from health professionals on his path to recovery.
After school, by now driving, he became more independent but used alcohol to self-medicate anxiety.
The birth of his son led him to refocus and he began cross-fit training.
"Alcohol is a temporary bandaid - after a few drinks, you are at ease with the stress and anxiety you face daily. But the days after when you are back in that dark place where you are having negative thoughts, everything feels too hard," he says. "Through fitness I realised I felt so much less anxiety and I was getting all the relief from being healthy."
When he opened up about his mental health journey on social media, a wave of people asked him for advice.
A qualified electrician, Burgess did a diploma in group training before starting his gym, dedicated to mental health support.
"It incorporates all that helped me in my journey in one facility - group fitness classes, yoga and meditation and advice on nutrition and sleep," he says.
Real365 Collective has community workshops every Wednesday evening, with speakers presenting on holistic approaches to improving mental health. The gym's blog has a weekly feature called Real Talk, when members of the gym and community open up about their mental health journey.
"It's about educating people about how we can self care so when trauma happens in life, which is quite often, they know they can dial in the drinking, nutrition, start exercising, surround themselves with support."