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Climbing the mountain

Anna Watt  |  08 May 2019

Dave Jorna has been running retreat days and leadership programs for young people in schools around Australia for more than a decade. Anna Watt speaks to him about his philosophy for having a healthy mentality, and what he learned while supporting someone close to him suffering from mental health issues.

Taking time for your own mental wellbeing isn’t a new thing, Dave Jorna points out.

‘Jesus made regular time to go up the mountain and pray. He seemed like he was big on self-care, as a priority.’

As founder and facilitator of Project Hatch, Dave spends a lot of time up the self-care mountain. Which is fortunate for him, because he has to put up with my interview chaos.

My laptop screen freezes just as we start talking. Dave patiently chats into the abyss as I disappear from the screen, desperately scrambling to revive my laggy software.

Once I have everything (finally) rolling, I come to understand that this interview is being conducted an hour earlier than what was agreed upon – Brisbane is two hours ahead of me, not three. Dave’s flexibility saves the interview.

Holistic lifestyle

I am talking to a man who practises what he preaches. Dave tells me how he used himself as a holistic lifestyle ‘experiment’, to test out his philosophy of healthy mentality; something which he teaches to students across the country.

‘I geeked out on all this stuff for a very long time, listening to other podcasts, reading other books, and I thought, “Why not be an experiment myself – do things like mindfulness, do exercise each day, do journaling…see what happens?”’

What happened was Dave lost 16 to 18 kilos, ran his first marathon, and entered ‘a different place’ of health and wellbeing.

For 11 years, Dave has been facilitating leadership days and retreat programs for students all around Australia through his organisation, Project Hatch. He is also a podcaster, interviewing International and Australian wellness experts and celebrities such as Dr Gary Chapman, Dr Rick Hanson and Commando Steve for his podcast channel, ‘Do Life Better’.

Dave’s programs and podcasts are founded on the idea that good and bad things happen but they do not have to define who you are being or who you can become.

‘In many situations you get to choose how you interpret what happens and what you do next’, he says.

Supporting people with mental health issues

His two small boys provide him with ‘the drive for self-improvement’, and he explains that his experiences of supporting a very important person in his life with ‘significant mental health issues’ has given him the motivation for doing the work that he does.

Dave opens up about how incidences of this individual attempting suicide and having to take them to the emergency room have been incredibly taxing for himself and his family.

The advice that Dave has for young people supporting loved ones with mental health issues, is firstly, to have ‘full acceptance’ of that person, and secondly, to ‘really connect’ with them.

‘Don’t just say, “we should catch up for coffee”, but literally do it. Ask how they are, and truly listen… encourage them to seek professional help. Encourage them to make a commitment, even offer to go with them.’

This is all very well, but what if this individual lashes out with hurtful or harmful behaviours to the support-givers? Dave’s solution: ‘creating gentle, empathetic boundaries around them’.

‘Have a quiet chat to the side and say, “we’re here for you, we wanna be here with you, and we understand that this is a difficult time… but these outbursts aren’t OK”.’


He recommends tag-teaming with friends and family, and structuring the individual’s day for them, ‘to really help them get the support that they need’.

And if they refuse to get professional help? The key is to open up and make yourself vulnerable first.

‘We tend to be highly compassionate for people who have cancer, or other physical illnesses; yet there’s still a bit of a stigma surrounding mental illness. Show that you don’t have any stigma…talk about that, friend or family member that sees a psych, and how much respect you have for that person because they did that. It might take them a few months…that’s OK, walk them gently.’

Dave also recommends to ‘walk them gently’ in a literal sense, as one can offer to accompany them to their sessions.

Jesus as a role model

Jesus provides a good role model for mental wellbeing, not just in that he regularly took time out for himself to go up a mountain to pray.

‘Firstly, there’s so many benefits about going up that mountain… it’s exercise, it’s Vitamin D, it’s outside.

‘Then, [there’s] time and stillness. Mindfulness and prayer releases stress and anxiety, and it helps to make you more present.

‘He was also big on relationships…he was big on sharing meals with his disciples.’

Dave concludes our conversation with the important note that we shouldn’t just practise self-care when we’re feeling rundown.

‘Don’t treat yourself like your iPhone; we only plug our phone in when no battery left. We need to keep on topping ourselves up regularly, even when you’re feeling on top of your game.’

Dave Jorna’s free ‘Do Life Better’ podcasts are available online on Apple Podcasts, RSS and Castro.

If you’re troubled by any aspect of this article you can get support at



DAVE’S ADVICE for being empathetic and give support to loved ones with mental health issues without burning out oneself comes down to PERMA(H).

P is for positive experiences: ‘Find things that bring you joy and happiness, but also spend even more time in gratitude…and savouring the moment. The more time I fill up my own bucket every single day, the more I have to give to someone who’s draining my own wellbeing.

E is for Engagement: ‘Do things that create a sense of flow and engagement… Do things that helps you experience that state of flow. For me, it’s picking up my guitar and playing guitar; going outside and playing soccer with my sons.’

R is for Relationships: ‘Opt into time with people who make you feel good: the people who are the “bucket-fillers”.’

M is for Meaning and purpose: ‘Don’t try to find meaning, because it’s paradoxical: if you try to find meaning you will have less meaning. Do things that naturally generate meaning; for example, go and volunteer for a cause, spend more time with people who mean something to you…give back, offer help to your friends and your family.’

A is for Achievement: ‘Do things that help you create achievement. Find things that you can achieve in quickly and easily.’

H (which he notes is optional) is for Health: ‘It’s about exercising every day, it’s about enough sleep, it’s about eating the right stuff, [getting] enough movement.’


Topic tags: ourrelationshipwithgod, familylife, healthycommunitylife

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