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Move for Mental Health with Kylianne Farrell


Move for Mental Health with Kylianne Farrell

Felicity Cohen: Good afternoon and welcome to the Wellness Warriors podcast. Today it’s my absolute pleasure to introduce you to Kylianne Farrell, Kylianne is the mother of two beautiful lady legends. She’s founder of Move for Mental Health, and when she’s not presenting or delivering courses, she’s often leading a hike, a surf trip or onsite working, supporting leaders and teams, and doing a whole host of other things. You’re based in beautiful Karratha in Western Australia, which many of us actually dream to visit welcome Kylianne, and thank you so much for joining me today. 

Kylianne Farrell: Well, thanks for having me Felicity. It’s an absolute honour.

Felicity Cohen: So I guess, first of all, how have you managed to get out and move your body and exercise today? 

Kylianne Farrell: Well, I actually made sure I did that this morning! I went for a walk. First of all, I walked my kids to school, which wasn’t so relaxing. So then I went for another walk after that, out into some greenery to make sure I was grounded and ready to have a lovely conversation with you.

Felicity Cohen: Beautiful. I mean, I always start my day with moving first because I know that for me, if I’m not up early and making that part of the start to my day, it often just doesn’t happen. So for me, it’s always first thing early in the morning, and from a mental fitness point of view and ability to function better, do better and be more productive I always find it’s the best way for me to start my. 

So you founded Move for Mental Health. Can you tell us a little bit about the story behind how you created this powerful program and, and what the motivation was in the first place? 

Kylianne Farrell: Yeah. So Move for Mental Health was really born out of my own experience with severe mental illness. So when I was 19, I found myself sitting in front of a psychiatrist after a, a pretty lengthy struggle with what I then was diagnosed with of severe depression, anxiety. I was also presenting with suicidal ideations at that time, but I didn’t bring those to the attention of psychiatrists because I didn’t know what I was dealing with.

We didn’t have the awareness that we have now. What really sparked my curiosity around the movement piece and how it fits into a mental health recovery is that he actually prescribed me exercise as a part of my treatment plan, along with a referral to a counselor and a prescription for antidepressants and anxiety medication. Unfortunately I didn’t take him up on the, the two latter, which I don’t recommend, always follow the advice of your clinical professional, but I did really run with the exercise piece. He didn’t prescribe it well, which led to quite a wild ride to uncover how exercise really does work and, and the why behind it and the science behind it. He just said to me, get out there and get sweaty often. To a 19 year old, it was sort of like yeah. Cool. Okay. I’m not really sure what that means. And so yeah. Been on a pretty big journey I would say, oh, I was 19 then I’m 34 now. Not too good with the quick maths, but, um, around about 16 years. That has been that journey. And it led me to where I am now. 

Felicity Cohen: So, I guess, first of all, you know, it’s great that you actually at 19 had the awareness that you needed to deal with whatever you were dealing with, even without a, a name or, you know, some kind of a diagnosis, at that point. So that’s, that’s obviously something that, you know, you were smart enough to know that you needed help.

Do you think that that referral for exercise or movement and that prescription around how that looks, has that changed a lot do you think? 

Kylianne Farrell: Yeah, it has, to me. It started out in the gym because I came from doing a lot of sports and then a lot of structured sort of exercise, you know, it’s built into the schooling system, all that sort of thing. And then as I left that and that scaffolding of the school system and entered the adult world with very little skills that turned out, I sort of just turned to what was known, which was the gym and I sort of went down that journey for a long time. Had a lot of body image issues as well so I wasn’t really getting out in nature and, you know, getting to the beach and those sorts of things. So it’s grown hugely in that time to take a full swing out into nature and to the outdoors now. And I make full advantage of that because I know the science behind it, why it’s so beneficial.

So it’s probably going from more of a prescription, I guess, to like what fills me up. What’s going to make me be most consistent at this point in time. My life is snapshot in time and investing in that space. Um, and yeah, it usually involves the outdoors now, which is pretty cool. 

Felicity Cohen: What have you learned now that maybe you didn’t know then around the benefits of movement? How do you feel that that had an impact on mental health and, and what are the actual benefit?

Kylianne Farrell: I could talk about this for two days. there’s so many things, I guess when I started, I didn’t, I didn’t know. I knew it made me feel better and I guess probably a lot of the awareness around exercise and mental health is like, it releases your feel good hormones, but we know it’s actually so much more than that.

If we combine it with nature, it’s just this amazing piece of the puzzle that can help us increase our mental wellbeing so it can help us regulate our emotions. It can help actually produce chemicals from our muscles that make their way through the blood blood brain barrier and act like antidepressants anti-anxiety medication. Not saying they need to replace them, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle. it can help foster connection with others and self, it’s such an incredibly under-prescribed part of the recovery of a mental illness. 

Felicity Cohen: It’s so fascinating. And I think, you know, wouldn’t it be interesting to see if we could actually apply that in a prescription or prescribed based, you know, medicinal modality as a first step in that big piece of the puzzle before potentially looking at well, what are the drugs that we are going to use to treat? Because, you know, if you start with the movement at first, especially for someone who’s 19 years of age and possibly dealing with their first encounter with depression, anxiety, and suicide ideation, what are some of the other alternative kind of holistic interventions that we can engage in that might really support someone and potentially of course, you know, prescription medication might also be part of that but a holistic approach seems to be a really good solution. 

Kylianne Farrell: I was just going to say, I totally agree with that. And I guess on the other side of the coin, there is the piece around, but if we do medicate. will that allow someone to have the space, to be able to put those tools, like exercise and things in place. Because when you are in the depths of a depression and depending on the severity or anxiety, sometimes it’s really hard to take those steps. so I think medication can play an important role and it’s really dependent on the person and their circumstances. But yeah, I do totally agree. Needs to be a piece of the puzzle. 

Felicity Cohen: Yeah, absolutely. It’d be great to see more of that. So tell me a little bit about what Move for Mental Health is and how did you come to that concept following through your own personal journey to get to the stage of wanting to drive this whole movement? 

Kylianne Farrell: So Move for Mental Health actually started as an initiative of my personal training business. I had just had my second daughter and I was trying to find a way to put something in place to make sure I continued to invest in my own mental wellbeing, knowing the spiral of prenatal depression, anxiety I’d had with my first daughter and birth injuries I’d suffered. And so I wanted to set that big goal, knowing that works for me, and it just turned out I had a heap of other women that wanted to join me from my personal training community and I had 11 people join me on that journey. I decided to make it a fundraising event as well, because I’m all about being a part of something greater than myself and leaving something behind that’s worthwhile and helpful to people so I found the Gidget foundation and I decided to fundraise for them.

It started as an initiative fundraising hike. We hiked the Cape to Cape down south in Margaret River, 135 kilometres, 11 of us took that journey. All of us with our own individual mental health. Illness journeys. We fundraised over $36,000, which helped them kickstart their start talking program or service that they offer to tele-health areas just like myself here in Karratha for new and expecting parents that are really struggling with the debilitating effects of mental illness.

So yeah, and then it just grew legs and evolved and every year it’s evolved, I continue to run those hikes. There’s two arms to my business. There’s the movement side, which I can never let go of where I take people on those journeys to allow them to really uncover how does exercise, movement, nature, connection, help them in their journey. What lessons can they learn about themselves? What do they put in place when they have to overcome these physical challenges when they’re outdoors and put themselves in these positions and how can they translate that to their, to their, you know, everyday life. And I’ve seen some massively transformational journeys that been incredible.

Then the other side is that I am now in the workplace. So when COVID happened, it took a massive swing into the workplace, which was completely unexpected. And I now run mental health workshops out in the mining industry. I do mental health first aid courses. I still do keynote presenting and things like that for different companies and forums and conventions and things like that. So I’ve got two arms to my business, which keeps it very exciting for me and works for my brain. And I’m absolutely loving the journey. 

Felicity Cohen: So many different elements to unpack in that little quick snapshot. So first of all, the Gidget foundation, what a great charitable cause to fundraise for and probably, you know, for people who are listening, who might not be aware of who they are, there are so many expectant, new couples having their first child, you know, who knows what they’re going through, whether it’s one or both of the couple who might be dealing with prenatal suicide ideation or possible, you know, mental health issues and even postnatal. So really such a beautiful foundation for you to be fundraising for and great to raise the awareness of the fact that they’re there and can help people going through those problems. And tele-health, you know, having the opportunity to connect with people and offering tele-health as a means of communicating so that, especially when you do work in a remote location that distance is never a barrier to seeking out good professional help, and it’s available to you anywhere and we know that really well because we’ve worked with so many fly in fly out patients and they’re all over Australia. So for us, it’s always been our modus operandi. We’ve always had the ability to connect via tele-health, so super, super important. you’ve got a really unique approach when it comes to exercise and movement. And you’ve got this kind of, out of the box kind of approach when you’re working with your clients, that you don’t just look at exercises exercise, and you’ve got this really interesting way around how you inspire and teach.

Can you talk me through a little bit about what your personal style’s about? 

Kylianne Farrell: Yeah. Um, I think it evolved and came together not only out of my own experience but over my journey, I’ve had those questions of why like, why did this work? And then I go down that rabbit hole and study that and then add that into the, to the toolkit.

So the first hike I ran back in 2017 really sparked a lot of that curiosity. So I wanted to know why did nature work. And I went and studied ecotherapy, to add to that toolkit. , and then I started realising that people were putting their strengths in place and that there was this piece around how blue and green space start to impact our mental wellbeing. I went and studied positive psychology and that’s been completely life changing and, and game changing in my business. So it’s all about, I guess, moving from the approach of what’s not going right for someone. and looking at it from a different perspective of what is going, right. How can we leverage it? And then how can we look back at those challenges and the things that maybe not going right in someone, either mental health or body physiologically and how can we leverage the things that are going right to help impact those areas? I guess that’s probably where my approach comes from. I’ve always looked at things from an emotional standpoint, from a more holistic it’s not it’s, I don’t take things on face value. Like I want to go deeper and understand why, and, and help people really put things in place that are going to sustain them long term going forwards so that when they leave working with me, they have their own toolkit and they have their own protective factors that they can put in place.

And movement is one of those pieces that brings together a lot of different areas of that puzzle, I guess, or pieces of that puzzle. And a book, I guess that brings that all together. If you wanted to look a little bit into that, it’s called The Joy of Movement and Kelly McGonigal, she’s the author of that, and she’s an expert in that space and I love that approach to movement. It’s just, it’s not just about moving your body. It’s like this umbrella for so many different things that, that goes on. 

Felicity Cohen: Absolutely. So you refer to your mental health first aid course as one of the elements that you offer and, and often a course that you might run in, , a leadership environment or in the workspace.

What actually is mental health first aid? What does that mean? 

Kylianne Farrell: So mental health first aid was developed in the response to having a physical first aid and people knowing what to do if something was physically wrong with someone, but what about the mental health side? The things that we can’t see, so we need to be able to know what we are looking for.

And then after we started that hard conversation, know how to get people the right kind of help and put their foot in the right door so they have the best experience possible so they can continue that journey to recovery. So mental health is really mental health first aid is all about teaching people, the skills first of all, to pick up on what may not be going right for someone or the declining or worsening of someone’s mental health, we’re looking for cluster symptoms. We’re not there to diagnose or anything like that. How to have those hard conversations, how to ask really good questions, to gather as much information as possible, have a broad understanding, I guess, of all of the common mental health problems and crises that someone can experience here in Australia. And then how can we help someone take those steps to get help? Hopefully sooner rather than later, because we know the sooner someone seeks help for mental health, the better and quicker the recovery.

Felicity Cohen: Understanding the triggers first and being able to identify them is really key, critical in the workplace, and for CEOs or team leaders or people managing a group of people in an organisation, what are some of the things that they might look out for and how do they actually then deal with it?

Kylianne Farrell: So if we think about mental health as a continuum, so on one, one end, we have positive mental wellbeing where someone’s flourishing and thriving. And the other end we have quality of life is severely impaired. And I guess in that more pointy red end is where we see mental illness occur. What we are looking for is well, I’ll back step first in that we slide up and down that continuum based on environmental factors, risk factors, a whole variety of things. If we have the skills tool, strategies, support, or we had that willingness to find those things we will slide up and down that continuum, we’ll be able to get ourselves back into that positive and functioning area somewhere in that green zone. When we see a declining in mental illness or a worsening of mental health, people may not have the skills, the tools, the supports, and the skills in order to get themselves back and to bounce back into that green zone or bounce forward into that green zone, I’d say.

That’s sort of what we are looking for. We’re looking for the signs that maybe someone is declining in mental health. And what does that look like? It looks different for everyone. It could be, in the workplace, maybe they’re starting to show up to work and their physical appearance is not looking like they normally would, they’re not taking the same care. It could be that they’re having conflict with people when they wouldn’t usually have conflict. There’s been a change in mood and that mood has been ongoing and, and longer lasting than it usually would. It could be that they’ve stopped taking care of themselves, they’ve started to withdraw from people. Yeah, it can be so many different things. And I guess that’s the beauty of mental health first aid. Is it helps you identify, what do you need to be on lookout for? Because if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re going to miss a lot of things that may be in front of you in terms of data and feedback from another person.

So the more we know, the quicker we can pick up on things and get people help and help support people with their recovery. 

Felicity Cohen: Thank you. So look out for the data and the feedback and for anyone who’s listening, you know, if you are a leader and you’re in a space where you’re employing lots of people, or even just a few people just checking in with your employees, I think that’s really great advice. Thank you so much. 

So I know that you love to get out and take on board some amazing physical challenges for yourself. You did an incredible event that I’m dying to learn more about. And why on earth you would ever put yourself through such a gruelling race. You took on board a 100km event that involved 60kms on a paddle board and a 40km hike.

What inspired you to take on such an amazing challenge? 

Kylianne Farrell: I guess like everyone, when COVID first came to town, which is like two years ago, now it’s hardly believable. My mental health much like a lot of other people took a pretty big downward spiral and I knew what worked for me. So my work halted, I wasn’t able to see my family for a period of time. So there was lots of the things that would help keep me well taken off the table. I’ve been there before. And so I knew what I needed to do. So I thought, you know, I’m going to set a big goal, 100kms, the 60km paddle board, , 40km hike over three days, I did play it relatively safe in that I decided to do it in enclosed body of water so that I didn’t have to necessarily face my biggest fear of open water and sharks. Which turned out I did end up facing my biggest fear of sharks in the end, a training pattern, which is another story. I just wanted to raise awareness that, you know, no matter how much is going on in the world and, all of the challenges that we face in life, we can still put things in place for ourselves in order to maintain mental and physical wellbeing and that protective factors are incredibly important as a piece of that puzzle. It was quite the adventure. 

Felicity Cohen: Sounds amazing. How did you feel when you got to the end of it? 

Kylianne Farrell: I was shattered. I think the joy and the learnings and the feeling of pride and, and all of those sorts of things came later on.

As I started to recover, I could barely move my body after that 40km hike. I was like dragging my legs around. It was to put it in perspective when I set this goal, I had not paddled more than 5kms. I knew I could hike. I’d never hiked 40kms, especially off the back of a 60km paddle board but I put things in place for myself. I got a coach, I did heaps of training, I got sponsors on board, like Red Paddle Co. they gave, they helped me with my board and, and helped keep me inspired to keep going, because I was sort of accountable to them then. That’s sort of why I’ve been able to talk to amazing people like you is because of, of their generosity in helping sponsor that trip.

Actually, we did film it as well. My sister as a videographer and we’re hoping to see that short film come out by the end of the year around that journey and what was learned and why we did it. So that will be cool to look out for. 

Felicity Cohen: That’s amazing. , during that 60km paddle board component, what kind of landscape were you actually traveling through?

Kylianne Farrell: So I had actually never paddled there before, I chose it because of how big it was. So it was a dam down in Collie, which is in, sort of inland in Western Australia down here, Bunbury area. it’s one of the biggest dams apart from Lake Argyle up in the north. I didn’t realise it was a flooded valley. So when I got there and did my location paddle, I quickly figured out that with a flooded valley, if any storm fronts come through, which they did the wind actually funnels. And then over an open body of water, it actually picks up speed. So I did a lot of up winding into like 15, 20 knot winds which is brutal. And your usual, I guess, navigation around that is to hug the coast of the opposite side of where the wind is coming because it’d normally be pretty protected from the wind. Unfortunately, I had not done my research and there were like, trees had just been completely cut out of that valley and then it was flooded.

There were tree stumps everywhere. As I was down winding, one part, like there were like full trees that would just so like pop up. Like you could just see the top of them, which could have been devastating to that trip. It could have, if I’d hit it hard enough. it was quite an interesting landscape. I learned a lot about water and the weather and how to navigate it, but it’s all tools in my toolkit now. 

Felicity Cohen: Such an incredible achievement. Congratulations really spectacular. And I hope to have a chance to see that video. I’ve seen some of your photographs and they’re so beautiful. It looks amazing. 

Kylianne, what does wellness mean to you?

Kylianne Farrell: So wellness to me is around the brain and body basics of what keeps us well, so that would be movement, exercise, sleep hygiene, and probably hydration thrown in there as well. If I want to make it more complicated, wellbeing would be wellness fits into a piece of that. And so wellbeing for me is all of those different pieces of the puzzle that come together to help us be our best selves, more often, to live life, the way that we want to and get the most out of it. So that’s what that means to me. 

Felicity Cohen: what do you wish you knew about wellness? If you could take yourself back 10 years, 10 years earlier.

Kylianne Farrell: so that would’ve been right in the depths of my mental illness when I was not actually treating it well. And I think what I’d like, I would’ve liked to have known was the impact that emotions have on not only your physiology, but your thinking, your health, if you were to ignore them, and how that actually impacts your behaviour and your relationships and, and everything that on flows from that. It was such a missing piece of the puzzle that I wasn’t paying attention to, that feedback and data of what the emotions were trying to tell me.

And I think we know that if we suppress emotions and we don’t deal with them it does show up somewhere in our body, you know, disease, you know, is disease. I had multiple things show up that were just like screaming at me that I needed to deal with emotions and manage them well, and I just wasn’t getting the I wasn’t getting the, the message. 

Felicity Cohen: Such a great lesson. And I think so many of us who are resilient and tend to suppress all sorts of issues that we are dealing with, whether it’s mental health or physical health, we often tend to ignore them and just bury them. Such a really important thing to really highlight is how important it is not to do that to yourself and to let those things be dealt with and to approach help when you need it.

So finally, our listeners are Wellness Warriors, and we know that wellness is worth fighting for, and once you lose your health, you spend the rest of your life fighting to get it back, whether that’s physical or mental or spiritual health. So something that’s always inspiring to learn about is how others are going on their wellness journey.

My last question for you today is can you share with us a time that you were struggling with your wellness, something else that we outside of that one particular moment when you were 19, um, that you were struggling with your wellness and what did you do to fight for it or reclaim it?

Kylianne Farrell: Given we’ve already spoken about the 100km trip… back in 2017

Felicity Cohen: I was just going to say, thinking about your birthing injuries as well. You know, that’s a huge, big thing, but maybe we don’t hear many people talk about, and you’re probably not the only one who’s been through that either.

Kylianne Farrell: Yeah, that’s actually where my speaking and presenting and Move for Mental Health sort of began as well was when I did have my first daughter. And I think an important lesson that I learned was that, I had only been relying on exercise to manage my mental health up until the point that I birthed my daughter.

 I suffered birth injuries. I ended up with multiple prolapses and basically what happened is I had the rug pulled out from underneath me, and I found myself spiralling and was in a pretty dark place, to be honest with a newborn. It’s it’s a common story. Not everyone has a great time and we know that now, but back then there was very little support and information and awareness.

 I sort of had to forge that side of things in the fitness industry with some support of people around me. If I sort of think about that first trip that I took with Move for Mental Health and the Cape to Cape track. You know, I was still struggling with all of those things.

I just had my second daughter and I’d suffered more birth injuries as a result because my body was already, you know, not as functional as I had been prior to having kids. And I’ve really had to fight to get there. It was, I look back, I have no idea how I managed to pull that trip off. I was just so driven for that bigger purpose and to be accountable to all those other women that came with me to help them in their journey and help give them what I’d learned also to the point. So I had me, myself and my best friend. She came with me. She had a four month old. I had a 10 month old and my other daughter was two and a half. I think at the time, my parents drove their caravan down. The caravan park, where we were staying, set that up, we had carers for the kids. I had not even considered that I’d be away from my child for 10 hours of the day and she was solely breastfed . And so we were literally hiking and pumping on the track. Like my best friend would pump we’d clean it. She’d send it back to me. There’s photos of me like hiking pumping. It’s just, she didn’t sleep all night. It was just such an amazing experience to look back on now and think that we did that and we still fundraise that money.

 I guess that’s what’s important, is that when things are tough, it’s very easy to spiral down and what really matters, I think with challenges and adversities that are thrown your way is how do you use them to spiral back up to get to where you want to be? And in this case was, you know, mental health and mental wellbeing and physical wellbeing.

 It’s not really about what happens to you. It’s about what do you do next. Without disregarding people’s experiences And we get to write that narrative. We get to challenge the beliefs that we have about ourselves, and it’s in times like that, where they are challenged and taking action and actually moving our bodies, a thing that really creates those new neural pathways to create change.

Felicity Cohen: Kylianne, it’s been an absolute pleasure spending time with you today. Thank you for joining me on the Wellness Warriors podcast. 

Kylianne Farrell: Thanks for having me.

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