My Story

 

Geoffrey Ahern

Geoffrey Ahern

I’m a senior mental health clinician and educator who splits my time between working with people in a mental health crisis in the Emergency Department setting and working proactively in educating other health professionals and the community about how to better understand mental health problems and also substance use and addiction.

Over the years I’ve gained extensive experience in emergency and trauma nursing, rural nursing, alcohol and other drug counselling, and psychiatric nursing across both the public and private sectors and for the last six years I’ve worked on the road with Victorian Police on a crisis mental health response team; Mental Health and Police Response (MHaP) which I now do on a part-time basis. 

I’m particularly fascinated by the impact that exercise, nutrition, community, meaning and purpose, and practices like yoga have on a person’s mental health as well as living a simple life of reflection, contentment, and wonderment.  You can learn more about how nutrition and exercise have impacted me personally here 

I hold a Master’s Degree in Health Science (Mental Health and Addiction) and as a part of my own ongoing education I am currently completing a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition through e-Cornell University in the States which explores nutrition and society, diseases of affluence and plant based practice for clinician’s and educators such as myself.

Memberships

Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)

Presentations

2019 – Victorian Allied Health Research Conference

“Mental Health First Aid for Allied Health Clinical Educators”

2017 – 18th Victorian Collaborative Mental Health Nursing Conference

“Being gay and Christian: the unique mental health risks that this poses for gay men in Australia.”

2013 – National Men’s Health Gathering

“The Friday Work Meeting – Helping Men to Connect in an Informal Way.”

Research

2018 – “Mental Health First Aid for Allied Health Clinical Educators.”  Lo, K., Ahern, G., Rossetto, A. and Fairlie, M.

Media

30.11.16 – Police Specialist Trains Local Teachers.

4.1.17 – A calendar Isn’t Going To Make Changes In Your Life; It’s Up To You To Do That.” – Huffington Post 

27.4.17 – If Your Kids Are Watching ’13 Reason Why’, You Should Too.” – Huffington Post  

12.9.17 – “Where There’s A Will to host Upper Hunter training tour.” – Scone Advocate

10.11.17 – Where There’s A Will delivers Teen Mental Health First Aid training to 100 Scone Grammar School and Scone High School students.” – Scone Advocate.  

Awards

2016 – Eastern Health Mental Health Program Employee Awards

“Award for Demonstrating an Outstanding Contribution in the value of Compassion.”

2011 – Mental Health First Aid Australia

“Master Instructor”

2010 – Recipient – Royal College of Nursing, Australia, Mental Health Post-Graduate Scholarship Scheme – Master of Health Science.

2006 – 1st Place – International Nurses Day Writing Competition

South Western Sydney Area Health Service

1995 – Campbelltown Hospital Award

“Most Outstanding Second Year Student”

1995 – Liverpool Hospital Incentive Award

“In recognition of outstanding academic achievement”

How I came to be here

I never envisioned myself working in mental health, but alas, after completing a four month secondment with a mental health crisis team in Sydney whilst I was working in a busy emergency department, I caught the bug and moved from the ED to crisis mental health work.

One of the reasons I have such compassion and understanding when working with a person with a mental health problem is that I have my own lived experience, just like many of you reading this. 

Prior to having any formal diagnosis my childhood was littered with trauma.  I experienced significant bullying at school to the point where I was literally terrified on a daily basis.  By the time I reached Year 10 I was ready to get out of there as quickly as possible.  The bullying peaked when I was bashed to the point where I ended up with a contused liver and broken ribs.

Most significantly, in terms of adverse experiences growing up, I was the victim of four sexual assaults from four different perpetrators, one of the assaults involving three perpetrators at once.  I’ll spare you the gory details suffice to say that this kind of trauma simply cannot not impact you long term.  Like many victims of sexual assault however I never disclosed this to anyone till I was thirty years old. 

My, “formal,” lived experience, if you like, of having a mental health diagnosis was at the age of twenty five was when I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after my new born son died in my arms.  Tragically this should never have happened.  It was as a result of the gross negligence on the part of the midwife that actually implicated me in his death (that’s a whole other story). 

There was an impending court case related to my son’s death that required that I obtain a report from a psychiatrist and the psychiatrist who assessed me said in his report that,

“Mr Ahern is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder which he will most likely never recover from.” 

Now I get why he used that language; he needed to convince the court that justice needed to be served.   But they’re still pretty tough words to read when you’re struggling already and in a very vulnerable position. 

Unfortunately I didn’t seek treatment straight away.  It wasn’t until many years later after my first daughter was born that I disclosed to my then wife, that I had been the victim of multiple sexual assaults as a child and I was slowly unravelling.  In the meantime I’d become a raging alcoholic and was engaging in some pretty self-destructive behaviour.   On several occasions I came very close to ending my life as well.

Long story short, I eventually sought help.  And today I can say with absolute confidence that I had post traumatic stress disorder.  I no longer have it.  Yes, occasionally I’ll have a wobbly day, like recently when I recalled this experience:

“We are complex beings are we not? One of the hospital emergency departments I work out of in Melbourne always seems to elicit anxiety in me when I attend. I’ve known it but I didn’t know why. Well today I do. 

I was working in the ED today and as I turned to walk down a corridor I was suddenly overwhelmed. My heart started racing and I felt sick to the stomach.

In an instant I was transported to that tragic day in 1995 when my baby son died in my arms and this corridor, the way it looked, the way it smelt, was almost identical to the corridor in the ED where my son died.

Now I understand why this particular ED elicits anxiety in me.

Somewhere deep in my subconscious mind I was being triggered to remember that event but it’s taken over 6 years of working here to realise what was happening within myself and mind.

This is why, if you’ve experienced significant trauma, we want you to talk to someone about it. In doing so you’ll create a narrative and develop insight and a better understanding of yourself.

Peace to anyone reading this who has experienced significant trauma. I hope you’re actively engaging in a journey of healing and recovery and please know that there is hope for recovery.”

Fortunately, I have engaged in an active recovery.  And moments like this are few and far between these days, and even when they come, I bounce back within an hour or two.

So if you, like me, have a lived experience of mental health, please know that we expect you to get better and there is hope.  It might take a while to recover, but you’ll get there, of this I am sure.