3187- Dr Deb Roberts, Mental Health Advocate

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I’ve been doing yoga on and off for nearly 20 years. For the past three years, my practice has become more important to me and much more regular.

As well as my home practice I head to Melbourne’s Ihana Studio a few times a week. The studio has a bunch of teachers I love for their approach and personality (and skills!), as well as a cohort of interesting regulars.

It was at the studio I first met Dr Deb Roberts. We were both participating in a meditation workshop and we got chatting afterwards. Like all of the people I choose to profile on this blog, Deb’s story struck a chord with me and her passion when speaking about her new business really lit up the room.

Having lived with mental health challenges since a teen, Deb’s mission is to empower young people to have conversations about their mental health and wellbeing – without the stigma.

During our conversation, I learned that one-in-five young Australians are currently experiencing a mental health condition, including depression and anxiety.

Deb’s work aims to support and improve their self-care and to facilitate happier and healthier lives. She believes that teaching emotional resilience is vital for our community’s future wellbeing.

Not one to just talk about change, earlier this year Deb launched Support Our Self (SOS) Care a digital portal and school-based community program which celebrates self-care. SOS-Care aims to normalise discussions about mental health and emotional wellbeing through tailored programs and workshops held in school environments. Deb’s programs are targeted at the whole school population. She works with teachers, children and also parents.

Thanks, Deb for talking to Tenant Mag today and letting us know a little more about you and what you do in Melbourne.

Firstly, I’d love to learn a little more about your background. You have an accent, where are you from?

It’s not as thick as it once was! I’m originally from Kansas, USA.  I came to Australia as part of a study abroad program at The University of Melbourne from The University of Texas (Austin) in 1995 and I’ve been living in Melbourne ever since…which is 23 years now and over half my life! 

Where is home for you in Melbourne?

I’m based in 3187, which is bayside, Brighton East to be exact.

What do you like about your postcode?

Most definitely it’s being near the beach.

Aside from being close to those you love, what makes you proud about living in the city of Melbourne (the city, the people, other) why do you stay?

Melbourne has a lot going for it. I am proud that there is accessible public and free health care for the whole population. I love that there is a diverse population, which includes many ethnic groups and cultures. The coffee is seriously the best in the world. The food is also top notch and there are great outdoor cafes. I love the beaches and of course, the art and culture that Melbourne is renowned for is just fantastic.

Is there any change that you would like to see in Melbourne?

Yes, less traffic, and better bike and public transport infrastructure! I am so glad they are building the city tunnel rail link and finally a train to and from the airport! We are a population of more than 4 million and growing! I heard that we will be the largest city in Australian by 2020 – these things are very important for the health of the population and the city in the future.

What do you think Melbourne will look like in the future, say in 20 years from now?

I think everything is going to get more digital and high tech, across all industries, I also think that our Arts and culture will continue to boom.

What is a place (anywhere in the world) that reminds you of Melbourne – but is not?

Definitely Vancouver, mainly for the cool vibe.

Do you have a favourite “Australian” word or expression (or anything else that strikes you as particularly Melbourne)?

Well, a big portion of the population is mad about AFL footy including my husband and three sons, I’ve learnt that having or hearing conversations about football throughout the winter season goes part and parcel with living here.

And let’s learn a bit more about you, how long have you worked in public healthcare?

I started studying public health at the University of Melbourne doing a PhD in what was then called the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine (which was part of The Faculty of Medicine).  My dissertation focused on health service delivery models for people with chronic illnesses.

I then worked professionally in the private and the public healthcare sector. I transitioned into academia primarily teaching postgraduates and doing public healthcare research in the Medical faculty at Monash University.

After that, I split my time teaching and starting a new business called Yogabean. I taught yoga to people of all ages and specialised in teaching at primary and secondary schools. I sold the business after 7 years when we were in 30 schools having taught 1000s of kids.  The business is continuing to thrive and I continue to teach as part of the team.

I have recently started SOS-care (sos-care.com.au) which is a platform aimed at destigmatising mental health issues and initiating broader conversations about it. I consult in schools offering a range of self-care programs to executive management, teachers and students focusing on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

What are you most proud of professionally? 

Starting, building and eventually selling my yoga business, Yogabean. I am thrilled that it still is growing and impacting so many children and teenagers.

Do you have a dream project (in your professional realm, or another)?

Integrating my professional and personal experiences into a larger organisation or movement that results in individual and societal shifts around mental health and wellbeing.

If you weren’t doing SOS-Care what would you like to be doing for work?

As long as I’m offering my skills and impacting people on a grassroots level, I would be happy doing most health or social service oriented roles.

What tips would you give to those new to exploring mental health teachings?

  • Start with yourself first and work from the inside out
  • Practice developing internal validation
  • Don’t seek and strive too much but have big dreams
  • Keep plugging along, small changes over time can lead to big changes
  • Have self-compassion and compassion for others, everyone has their “stuff”.

Great tips, thank you! Finally, can you share with us a Melburnian (that you know and admire) that you would like to introduce to TENANT?

Yes, Sandy Hutchison and her business Career Money Life. She is a truly inspirational friend and a fantastic business woman.

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