Will McMahon: Shining a light on mental health issues as he launches new ‘check in’ app

Through thought-provoking discussions and a new app, radio host Will McMahon is shining a light on mental health issues.

As a radio host in the coveted drive-time slot on KIIS FM, Will McMahon serves up the traditionally fun fare his role requires, from discussions of “awkward nudity” to prank calls.

But Will’s frank on-air admissions about his struggles with mental health have struck a chord with listeners, and inspired him to contribute more in this space.

With almost half of all Australian adults (45 per cent) facing mental ill-health at some point in their lives, he knows there’s a lot of work to be done.

“I think everyone in the mental health space agrees that the only way through (mental illness) is being able to tell other people what you’re going through,” Will says.

“Particularly when you’re at the bottom. But then there’s this great paradox that it is the hardest thing to do.”

On air

Will’s on-air co-host is Woody Whitelaw, his best mate and partner in comedy. Their national drive show Will & Woody launched in 2018 and has been an unqualified success, thanks to their apparently effortless chemistry.

Last year the Australian Radio Network announced their contracts had been extended for another three years.

But behind the humour, Will has found it difficult in a job that requires him to be “on” five days a week.

“So, I get depressed,” he says bluntly. “Not as much as I used to.

“It’s really simple. For me, if I rock up to work to do a radio show and I don’t tell people I’m depressed, I have a shocking time. Most of the time I’m just hiding the fact that I feel awful, then I act like a d—head, and I feel even worse about it.”

Will has used his show to try to normalise conversation around mental health.

In 2019, he and Woody recorded an intimate chat for suicide prevention charity R U OK? about depression and how it affects their friendship and working relationship. Will says the response was “amazing”.

“I still get people coming up to me saying they shared that video with friends and it really made a difference,” he says. “No matter how often you manage to be transparent enough to tell someone what you’re going through, when you’re going through it, it’s still bloody hard to do. Every time.”

Hard timeswill mcmahon

A high achieving student growing up in Melbourne, Will has battled depression on and off as an adult.

He says the first step towards helping himself is recognising the symptoms.

“I start noticing a few thoughts that are bound up in self-hatred, I’ll notice I find it hard to keep eye contact, I can be very irritable and nihilistic. They’re the symptoms and if I catch it there, that’s good, I know I need to stop putting pressure on myself.

“And not just me, also my partner (Sem). If I’m flat for two days and I don’t tell her then it all comes down when I break down in tears — or for a lot of men depression often manifests as anger or frustration — she’s far worse off than if I had come clean earlier and said ‘look, I’m not feeling well’.”

Practicing self-care

Maintaining his physical and mental health is part of Will’s daily routine. This ranges from simple measures such as walking the dog, to more extreme experiences such as attending a Vipassana meditation retreat in Sri Lanka.

“I exercise every day, no matter what it is. It might be intensive exercise, or it might be yoga. Whatever floats my boat, as long as I’m getting some sort of circuit breaker to get your blood pumping and feel alive.

“I meditate and if I need to, I talk to a psychologist. Being kind to myself is something I’m traditionally awful at, and I’m continually learning that it’s the thing that makes me the most happy. It just breaks down all the s–t of what I need to do and who I need to be and let’s me relax more into being an imperfect, vulnerable dude who’s just fumbling his way through like everyone else. And that’s OK.”

New mental health app

Saying “I’m not OK” can be the hardest thing to do, whether it’s to a friend, partner, family or employer. Wishing for a way that he could “communicate without communicating”, Will McMahon had a jolt of realisation when he looked down at the phone in his hand.

“I was like, ‘oh my God, I communicate without communicating every day’. That’s what phones are so good for. Breaking up with someone by text message — or getting dumped, I’ve been there — people do it because they don’t have to deal with the emotion, but they still get the message across. That’s what a text is, that’s why they’re so handy.”

Will took this concept and used it to develop a new mental health check-in app called Share My Mood.

The app asks users to rate their mood on a sliding scale, and then asks ‘would you like to share your mood with anyone else?’

“The app has text messages which are already populated, so you don’t have to come up with a nice way of telling people or think too hard about what you’d say to get the message across,” Will says.

“If I feel awful at the start of the day, I fire off a message to Woody or my producer and say ‘guys I’m not feeling well’ then they know why I’m acting weirdly and they know how to behave around me. And I can sort of deal with it in my own way.”

Created by Will and a core team at ARN, the Share My Mood app was developed in conjunction with a leading clinical psychologist, Gus Worland’s mental fitness charity Gotcha4Life and supported by Chemist Warehouse.

Will hopes it will help others who are struggling with mental health issues to find a voice when they need it most.

“It’s so hard in those moments to tell people around you how you’re feeling, even when they’re your salvation.

More mental health news:

Written by Anna Brain