A popular astrophysicist has revealed the massive response he received after he opened up about his own struggle with mental illness, saying hundreds of thousands of Australians had reached out to him with their own “heartbreaking” stories.

Matt Agnew, returning to speak with LiSTNR’s Jess Rowe, said a multitude of people had reached out to him after he revealed he had tried to take his own life in 2021.

“The volume of people who had a similar story, as I mentioned, it was truly heartbreaking to read how commonplace it was,” he said.

“I think that surprised me. I’d had some friends who had spoken vulnerably in the past, and one of the things they had told me about, and I kind of didn’t believe them, was people will share their story with you.”

While crushed by the volume of people who had similar experiences to him or knew someone who did, Dr Agnew said it was “heartwarming” to see people open up and find solace by sharing their stories.

“They felt this vindication or comfort in knowing there are others who go through these things and there is not something broken about us going through these experiences,” he said.

Dr Agnew said he was surprised by the lack of trolling that followed his frank admission about his experiences with clinical depression.

“I kind of assumed with any of these things when you put it into the public space, in particular through social media channels as well, you’re expecting 1 or 2 per cent trolls,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter what it is you’re talking about, you’re expecting there’s some jerks that are going to throw their hat in the ring and just be nasty.

“And I kind of expected that and it just never came.

“And that kind of is tied into that shame that there’s people who might try and exploit and hit you in those unjustified perspectives that it’s shameful, but it just wasn’t there.

“And that really surprised me because I assumed it’s just low hanging fruit for trolls. It’s really easy stuff to be nasty about and try and inflict damage, unwarranted damage, and it just wasn’t there and that was a real surprise for me and really warm to know that even despite the prevalence of trolls, this was something that people didn’t feel the need to throw nastiness around and perpetuate that stigma of shame around this.”

The Beyond Blue ambassador said connection and being open about mental health could help sufferers get out of isolation and seek out medical help.

“It’s kind of a nebulous beast until you articulate what it is you are going through,” he said.

Dr Agnew said he couldn’t respond to the volume of messages he had received, but he was reading through them.

“I can’t realistically respond to all of them by sheer numbers but also because I think it’s taking a really big load on emotionally to become deeply invested in everyone’s story, and that sounds awful but it’s the reality of receiving hundreds and thousands of traumatic stories people are sharing that I couldn’t in good faith respond to all of them and maintain my own mental health,” he said.

The Adelaide-born scientist has a PhD in astrophysics from Swinburne University.

He has published a book of popular astronomy called Dr Matt’s Guide to Life in Space.


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By Rahul

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