Ben Castles is an active man in many senses of the word: as both a seasoned fundraiser, and as a natural athlete. The 30-year-old Brisbane man is a keen cyclist, runner, surfer and camper who took on an incredibly tough endurance test and rode for 24 hours on a stationary bike to raise money for the Black Dog Institute.
Growing up, Ben suffered from depression and anxiety, which affected his daily life. As a coping mechanism, he turned to alcohol and drugs in the belief they could numb his negative emotions. But by the time he reached his mid-twenties, Ben realised he needed to look for constructive, healthy approaches. He started to question more deeply why he was feeling the way he was, and to think about ways to tackle his mental illness. The answer, he found, was sport and exercise. Ben was happy to discover that staying active and challenging himself physically was the best form of release, and he decided to use this approach to control his mood and outlook.
He also found that once he did this, he could speak more easily about his depression and anxiety. "I still suffer anxiety on a daily basis but being able to speak about it has allowed me to work through some of the underlying issues and I've now managed to get to a point where I can focus on using my anxiety to my advantage, rather than detriment."
Ben wanted to channel this new discovery and use his love of fitness to raise much-appreciated funds for Black Dog, having learnt of the organisation's innovative approach to mental health treatment and prevention, with its emphasis on e-mental health and physical activity. Thanks to his own experience and the struggles of others around him who have a mental illness, he understands the importance of the work Black Dog is doing to improve the quality of life for everyone affected by mental ill-health.
Having raised money for other charities, Ben quickly realised he had to dream up something pretty extreme to draw attention to his fundraising efforts and start a conversation about mental health. "That's when I had the idea of using my sporting endurance to ride my bike for 24 hours on a stationary trainer." He was under no delusions about what he was in for but was comforted by a powerful thought: "I knew this was going to be the hardest challenge I had ever completed but I also realised it was a small battle compared to the challenges faced by many people experiencing mental health issues daily."
He has some valuable advice for those thinking about starting their own fundraising challenge for the Black Dog Institute: think outside the square. "There are so many ways in which you can fundraise. Whatever your passion is, base it around that."
For Ben, the message behind Exercise Your Mood – Black Dog's annual campaign dedicated to raising awareness about the mental health benefits of exercise – shapes his daily life. "I basically live my life around that philosophy. When I exercise, there is no outside noise, there are no worries and there is no stress."