Belle Brockhoff is a snowboarder who represented Australia at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
She started skiing at three years old, picked up snowboarding at 10 and won her first snowboard Interschool Australian title in the same year. In 2010, aged 17, she competed in her first World Cup in Colorado, finishing in 36th place.
Some of Belle’s career highlights include placing third at the 2012 World Cup in Montafon, Austria, making her the first Australian female to win a medal at a World Cup. She also placed sixth in the Olympic trial event in Sochi in 2013 and she was ranked ninth overall in the World Cup standings in 2013.
At the Sochi Winter Olympics, Belle finished in eighth position in the snowboard cross. This was the most successful snowboard-cross result for Australia at the Games.
Belle publicly came out as being gay in August 2013, making her the only openly gay member of the Australian Olympic team competing at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. This was considered a brave move due to Russia’s anti-gay laws and against which voiced her opinion by supporting the Principle 6 campaign.
She said at the time: "I want to be proud of who I am and be proud of all the work I've done to get into the Olympics."
It was as a teenager that Belle first experienced the signs and symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“I was unhappy almost all days of the week and at that time, I couldn't remember the last time I was truly happy.
“I didn’t have confidence within myself as a person and felt that anything good that came to me was something I didn’t deserve. When it got worse, I started to self-harm.”
She had her first discussion with a GP when she accompanied her mother to a doctor's appointment.
“At the end of her appointment, she asked the doctor to have a chat with me about why I was always so down.
“At the time, I didn’t even want to see a doctor or seek help, so I didn’t fully open up to the doctor.
“However, she diagnosed me with depression and referred me to see a psychiatrist, who I refused to see.
“Looking back at when I was 16, I guess I was pretty stubborn with most things, but for me, I felt that by going to recovery sessions meant that there was something wrong with me. I didn’t know how common it was. I thought I was a freak.”
Finally, two years later, during her final year of school where she was at her lowest point, she went to see a psychiatrist.
Belle said at that stage she was experiencing increasing angry outbursts over little things, especially things associated with school.
“It even happened with snowboarding if I didn’t achieve the results I wanted (I was super competitive). I also became increasingly scared even to go out to the shops or have dinner with my family or friends at restaurants. I felt like I was a burden to everyone and that people didn’t want me here. I just did not want to be here.
“The only thing that kept me going and happy was snowboarding. Just free-riding made me feel happy and I had nothing to worry about.
“I only saw the psychiatrist a few times and each time she gave me some reading to do on feelings and a chart to fill out every day for three weeks noting when I was depressed and how severe it was. It helped a bit with being aware of my thoughts that led to feelings.
“In the last two years, I’ve also been working with a sports psychologist who is aware of my condition. We debrief after each competitive season and talk about what went well, what didn’t work well and why. I found this helped a lot especially preparing for the next season.
"When I'm down, I try to surround myself with positivie and happy people. I also have family and friends who would drop anything when I ring them up for support. My mum and dad are quite aware of my condition. If I'm uncomfortable talking to them about it, I'll talk to my sister first.
"During competitions, if I'm bummed about a result, I go for walks by myself around the village or go hang out with my good friend who also competes in the same discipline," she said.
Belle decided to become a beyondblue ambassador so she could share her story and hopes to inspire other people to reach out to those who care about them and feel their support around them.
“I want to show that there is hope, that it does get better and there are people with endless amounts of support for people with depression and anxiety. There is happiness beyond the blue.”
“I also want to create more awareness in sports that there are many athletes with depression and anxiety who are afraid to speak out. I’m hoping by doing this, those athletes will reach out because I am a strong believer that with more mental and emotional support, they can go further and push their limits in the sport.”
Belle encourages people currently experiencing depression and anxiety to speak and reach out.
“It does get better, you are not alone, you are more than worth it. There is support available and there is hope.”
In conclusion Belle said: “If you are concerned about someone else’s mental health, be supportive and encourage them to reach out for support by professionals.”