PEI

How 'absolute terror' led this P.E.I. man to start a podcast about mental health

Matt Burke started Matty’s Mental Health Podcast about 10 months ago. Since then he has recorded 21 episodes covering a wide range of topics including his own story.

'I completely lost it. I went into a rage. I punched the ground.'

Matt Burke performs the intro music for his podcast. (Matty's Mental Health Podcast/YouTube)

Feeling alone is a common theme on Matt Burke's podcast about mental health.

The 24-year-old started Matty's Mental Health Podcast about 10 months ago and since then has recorded 21 episodes in his Charlottetown home, covering a wide range of topics including his own story.

"The purpose of the podcast is to provide a platform where people can share their stories with mental health."

He said a lot of people feel like they have to fight their mental health battles on their own, and through the podcast, he wants to show them they don't have to. 

On the podcast he has spoken to people about things such as depression, anxiety and how concussions can affect a person's mental health.

'I just knew right away that I was just looking to make a positive out of it somehow,' says Matt Burke, of his own experiences. (Tony Davis/CBC)

"I've had counsellors on there. They talked about mental health from their side," he said. 

"A lot of interesting people. I've learned a lot from them."

Burke said he is not a mental health professional "by any stretch of the imagination," but he has had his own struggles with mental health and revealed his story on Episode 9.

'Absolute terror'

When Burke was 20, his girlfriend took her own life.

The couple was having a difficult time and while he was out one night his cellphone died as the two were texting back and forth.

I just knew right away that I was just looking to make a positive out of it somehow.— Matt Burke

The following morning he was cleaning off his car to go check on her when her parents pulled into the driveway and told him his girlfriend had killed herself.

"It was just absolute terror," Burke said.

He couldn't wrap his head around it. He was a mess and he got sick to his stomach.

"I completely lost it. I went into a rage. I punched the ground. I went into my house and I punched holes in the wall," he said.

Mark Burke, left, was on the latest episode of the podcast. Mark opened up about playing hockey on P.E.I. and how concussions affected his mental health. (Matty's Mental Health Podcast/YouTube)

His girlfriend's family insisted he come with them for the day and he went. He said they talked him down from his emotions.

"I was lucky they took me in right away and treated me as family," he said.

Now, with the podcast he is hoping to provide similar support by discussing mental health with others.

When you do tell your story it really does help.— Mark Burke

"I just knew right away that I was just looking to make a positive out of it somehow," he said. 

"Like 'How can I help? How can I move this forward? Take this experience and help somebody else that was in the same situation she was in,'" Burke said.

He said he wasn't sure what form that help would take until he found podcasting and decided to start inviting Islanders to discuss mental wellness.

'Anxious, like constantly'

Mark Burke — no relation to Matt — was on the latest episode of the podcast. He played hockey on P.E.I. for about 16 years, from squirts to junior, he said.

In December of 2016 he suffered a concussion and returned to the ice after two weeks. Two-and-a-half months later he suffered another concussion. That's when he realized they were taking a toll on his mental health.

In December of 2016 Mark Burke suffered a concussion playing hockey and returned to the ice after two weeks. (Debbie Hall)

"Anxious, like constantly. I'd go through bouts of depression from it. Just almost felt sort of stuck in a fight or flight state," Mark said. 

"Mood swings would randomly happen. I would go from somewhat happy, to mad as crazy over something silly to almost being in tears and that could all happen in a span of 15 minutes."

While he was experiencing this, he was going through changes in his life and had just moved out on his own, so he attributed the mental health issues to that.

He said he didn't really think his mental health was impacted by the concussions until he heard former Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas talk about how his mental health was affected by concussions.

Mark only told his parents about a month ago and the family went to see a mental health professional together.

"He referred me to a neurologist, so we are in line for that," Mark said. 

Mark also struggles with small talk following the concussions and appearing on the podcast was a way of addressing that issue.

"That felt real good, just to kind of air it all out," he said. "I got to keep moving forward and make myself better every day to kind of set a good example — that when you do tell your story it really does help."

Mark said he was able to relate to Matt knowing he also struggled with mental health.

'Tornado of emotions'

The year after his girlfriend died Matt was in shock. He couldn't sleep or focus.

"It is kind of a tornado of emotions," he said. "You know, a big thing for me, I started therapy right away and that was huge for me. That probably saved my life."

Matt said just talking about what was going through his mind helped.

I think by them sharing it'll just benefit anyone who listens.— Matt Burke 

One thing he started to do, that he still does, is go on hikes with his dogs for hours at a time.

"I just work through everything that is going on in my mind," he said. "It's kind of like a meditation time, and I always felt a little bit better."

Matt said he hopes his girlfriend would be proud of the work he is doing now.

He said if what he's doing helps one person, "it'll be worth it for me."

Gaining confidence from others

Ronnie McPhee, a community liaison for the city of Charlottetown, was a recent guest on the podcast.

McPhee said listening to Matt and his guests open up about their mental health troubles inspired him and gave him the confidence to take his turn at the microphone.

Ronnie McPhee, left, says he was inspired by hearing Matt and his guests open up about their mental health troubles, and that made him want to open up too. (Matty's Mental Health Podcast/YouTube)

When McPhee was younger he struggled with his mental health, and at one point, he spent time in the hospital.

"It gave me the opportunity to put myself in a comparable setting to other people who had challenges like this," he said.

"It just showed me how I could offer up my advantages to support others."

The main thing I try to do is get out of the way and let them tell their story.— Matt Burke

Being able to talk and help others deal with their mental health struggles has helped him cope with his own, McPhee said.

"That was always a good feeling to me. That's kind of how I found my way of coping with the challenges I kind of grew up with," he said.

Guests keep coming

Burke hasn't had to look for guests very often because many people have asked if they can be part of the podcast.

"I'm just like honoured to do it and I am so thankful for all the guests that reach out to me," he said. "I know how hard it is to tell your story."

Bringing these things to light and being more compassionate about it is 100 per cent the way to go in the future.— Matt Burke

He said organizing a traumatic story, to "go back to that point and really dive into it," can be difficult.

"The main thing I try to do is get out of the way and let them tell their story and I think by them sharing it'll just benefit anyone who listens who is going through the same thing," he said.

"And even people who aren't going through the same thing, just to understand what people go through."

One takeaway he hopes listeners walk away with is that mental health issues are common.

Burke says he hopes his girlfriend would be proud of the work he is doing now, by helping others tell their mental health stories. (Tony Davis/CBC)

Having lost someone very close to suicide, Matt does worry about some of the people he interviews.

"I never try to force anyone to come on," Burke said. "I want to make sure they are in a good enough place to come on."

When referring to his girlfriend's death, Burke said "mental illness took her life."

He said in the last few years the discussion around mental health has become more compassionate.

"Bringing these things to light and being more compassionate about it is 100 per cent the way to go in the future."

Matty's Mental Health Podcast can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and YouTube.

Anyone needing emotional support, crisis intervention or help with problem solving in P.E.I. can contact The Island Helpline at 1-800-218-2885, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For more information about mental health services on P.E.I., find resources from Health PEI here, or from the Canadian Mental Health Association P.E.I. Division here.

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About the Author

Tony Davis grew up on P.E.I. and studied journalism at Holland College. He can be contacted at anthony.davis@cbc.ca