Layne Beachley speaks openly about her own mental health and sport's power to help
By Layne Beachley - Laureus Ambassador
I am a seven-time world surfing champion. A success, right? Perhaps that's what you're thinking. And that's fair enough. Those titles speak to my ability to excel at a sport I love over a period of time. However, they don't speak to the person I am. They don't tell you about Layne Beachley.
I look at those seven world titles; each one tells a different story. In a way, they plot my mental health journey. Numbers one and seven were won in a state of love, two through six in a state of fear. The first and last were the bookends, the joyful experiences. What was the difference? One and seven were process-driven. Two to six were outcome-driven.
When I focused on outcomes, it was all about external circumstances. So, when things were going well, I felt good about myself. When things were bad, I felt bad. When I won, I was a winner. When I lost, I was a loser. My identity was wrapped up in how I performed. It was based on fear.
I had defined success as becoming the most successful surfer in history, but what was driving me was that I wanted to be worthy of love. And I had defined being worthy of love as becoming the most successful surfer in history, of succeeding at all costs. I must win. And if I don't, then I am unworthy of love. As a result, external circumstances dictated the quality of my life.
It was when I won my sixth World title that I unpacked this. I then framed my experiences by process, not outcome – and separated professional success from self-worth. At that point, I was able to enjoy being world champion. I was learning about myself – and celebrating!
Unless we dare to ask ourselves, 'Who am I, and what do I want?' we'll never feel like we are enough. To achieve our grandest desires, we must stop and reflect on what's working and what's not working. Is there an aspect of your life that is compromised or sacrificed? You'll then realise that a part of yourself is wrapped up in everything you do.
We all have an ego. How much of your ego is fuelling you or driving you to do what you do? How much of your goals are your own? It's a process of reflection. We must have the courage to look in the mirror and ask: Am I truly happy?
We have a mental health crisis in Australia. One in four Australians will suffer a mental health injury (as I prefer to call it, rather than a mental health illness) – suicide, depressive episodes, or reliance on medications.
Through my own Awake Academy, we help people navigate this by being more preventative, helping them connect with their emotions and detach from fear-based stories. We create more centred, connected and confident human beings, boosting empathy and compassion they can share with others.
We help them design and build their 'dream team'. None of us can live this life alone. We are hardwired for connection. We need to develop a support network. Very few people in our lives have earned the right to share in our pain. We've got to be discerning about who those people are. The Awake Academy is having a monumental impact. Our grand mission is to empower one million lives, and we're well on our way to achieving that.
Research is showing a mental health emergency among young people. Up to half of all mental health conditions start before the age of 14, and suicide is the third-leading cause of death between the ages of 15 and 19.
It's a serious problem, and a lot must be done – but we already know that sport has to be a part of that fight. In my work as a Laureus Ambassador, I've seen the difference sports programmes can make in the lives of disadvantaged young people, and when it comes to mental health, sport has a unique power. It helps alleviate stress and provides children and young people with mental and social tools that equip them to navigate the good and bad times in life.
Laureus Sport for Good programmes all over the world have a focus on mental health. Here in Australia, wonderful organisations like the Black Dog Institute, Lifeline and Beyond Blue are working on the front line of the mental health crisis. Unfortunately, demand is exceeding supply, and we need to do more.