James McQuillan, Dr Natasha McLellan and Steven Scott share life lessons in mental health at Billabong High School forum

JAMES McQuillan started his keynote speech at Billabong High School’s mental health forum by detailing a problem unique to him.

When he goes shoe shopping, the shoes he buys are with him forever.

It would be fair to suggest this is a quandary the students would never have thought about before – from that moment on, they were hooked on every word.

Mr McQuillan, along with former student, now doctor Natasha McLellan and Steven Scott, were guest speakers at the forum, now in its third year.

Dr McLellan spoke about her ongoing battle with depression, while Mr Scott discussed how he took up marathon running after losing a close friend to suicide.

For the quietly spoken Mr McQuillan, the key was learning how to ask for help during those times when he really needed it.

“I learned that it's important to talk to people when you're feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable,” he said.

“It's what I did when I was in Melbourne and I still do it now, I can call any of my close friends and unload any of the tough times I'm having.

“It was tough to learn, it took me about five weeks in Melbourne at first, I didn't talk to anyone about anything.

“After I while I just broke down and needed to talk to everyone whenever I could.

“It’s an important thing to learn.”

Billabong high principal Kurt Wawszkowicz said it was crucial that regional students were educated about mental health.

“I'm proud to be the principal of a school where youth mental health and mental health in general is placed at the top of the agenda,” he said.

“Especially for the kids, as we know there are so many mental health issues and related things to do with depression and bullying, it needs to be on the agenda for everyone.”

At the end of his address, Mr McQuillan issued some interesting parting advice for his audience, tongue firmly in cheek.

“Never trust someone in a wheelchair if they have dirty shoes,” he said.