Inspiring resilience during Mental Health Month

13 Oct 2014

Adversity can be a daily occurrence for anybody: the morning commute, a stressful workday or perhaps even the loss of a job.

For others, such as UQ Engineering alumnus Matthew Ames, adversity is more amplified.

After checking into hospital in 2012 with what doctors assumed was a strain of flu, Ames fell into a coma and woke three weeks later a quadruple amputee. He had suffered from a severe bacterial infection that had spread through his blood stream to his extremities, and to save his life, amputation of his arms and legs was his family’s only option.

While Ames’s situation is a difficult one to grasp for most people, it is his attitude and resilience that is the most striking part of his story. It is also the reason he was selected as a guest speaker for The University of Queensland’s Mental Health Month and his address last week to UQ staff about adversity and resilience offered some powerful and humbling take-home messages.

Ames believes the key steps to overcoming any level of adversity are the same: awareness and acceptance, purpose, opportunity, and relationships.
“Firstly, by becoming aware of yourself, your environment and your challenges, you can then become accepting of your situation,” he said. 

“This task is the greatest hurdle in building resilience. However when you’ve truly accepted something, you can then make better choices about the situation and your future.”

After forming a sense of acceptance, Ames suggests establishing purpose, including a sense of self and goals.

“Achieving your goal may become difficult, so you can change it, make it easier, but at the end of the day the reason for the goal is always going to remain the same,” he said.

Identifying opportunities is the next crucial step, and Ames said that by acknowledging and focusing on the things he can do, instead of those he cannot, he has been able to continually build upon his achievements and identify new opportunities.

Ames also said that relationships are the single greatest key to overcoming adversity and building resilience.

The support of his family, friends and the community has been an enormous benefit, and it is that type of support Ames said needs to be channelled towards those with mental illness.

“I get offers for help all the time, it’s quite obvious that I am someone who may need help. But you can’t necessarily see when some people need help and we need to work out how to mobilise support to those people in the community.”

The University of Queensland is offering a range of presentations and initiatives to its staff during Mental Health Month, including a workshop on Work Life Balance.

UQ alumnus, Jodee Allanson has also been invited to participate in the initiative and will discuss resiliency at work on October 21st.

If you’d like to read more about Ames’s story, his book Will to Live is available now from Penguin Books.

Watch the video from the Brisbane Times