Skip to content

Hayley Lewis, Queensland Mental Health Ambassador


Commonwealth gold medallist, small business owner and psychological health champion Hayley Lewis is proud to be Queensland’s Mental Health Ambassador.

Hayley delivers a personal message on the importance of mental health and wellbeing and reducing the stigma associated with mental illness.

The mother of two is passionate about mental health and with the help of WHSQ has been encouraging workers and employers to ensure their workplaces are mentally healthy.

"Mental health impacts everything and everyone. Sadly, often we don't realise just how bad it really is until we suffer or experience a tragedy.”

Hayley shares her story of navigating through difficult times as an athlete, a mother, a sister, a wife, a high-profile TV personality and a small business owner.

View Hayley's story

Hayley shares her story of navigating through difficult times as an athlete, a mother, a sister, a wife, a high-profile TV personality and a small business owner.

Download a copy of this film (MP4, 404.4 MB)

When I was little swimming to me was an outlet for my competitiveness. It was something I love to do. I love to win and I love to get up on the Dias and be given a blue ribbon, from a very, very young age. My name is Hayley Lewis. It was probably when I was eight, I went and saw the 1982 Commonwealth games here in Brisbane.

And I saw my hero, Tracy Wickham swim, the 400 freestyle.

I wanted it so badly just to have that whole experience, you know, there, it pretty much stayed my whole, childhood up until I was 15 when it became a reality.

When I went to the 1990 Commonwealth games as a 15 year old, I basically left Australian shores as a nobody, no one knew who I was. And I think I had that naivety that I could go over there. Win some medals, hopefully, and come home and go back into my bedroom and be a little girl of 15 who still liked Teddy bears, basically, I wasn't a mature 15 year old girl, but yeah, it very quickly changed.

But I guess the focus was on me because I'd won the five gold medals. And 15, I guess it was a story. Um, to me, I couldn't understand why anyone was interested in my story. By the time our taxi turned up at our little house in Cannon Hill, just the enormity of what I had to deal with. Um, hit me pretty hard.

And I remember my parents saying to me, you know, Answer all their questions be nice, you know, but I think it took from my driveway to inside the house. It was probably two hours of just trying to get through journalists and signing autographs. And I remember I just went straight to my room and started crying.

And I remember my two sisters came in and they said, you know what? Why are you upset? This is amazing. This is supposed to be one of the best things that's ever happened to you. What's, what's why are you crying? And I just said, I just don't want this. I can't deal with it. I don't. I just wanna swim. I don't understand it.

I don't, I just don't want it

Looking back. I can see that was the start of my Issues with my mental health in terms of my swimming. Inside I can't even tell you how much I was struggling and, you know, back in those days, so early nineties, mental health wasn't something that anyone spoke about and particularly in the world of sport, if you mentioned that you were struggling, it was definitely, um, a weakness and, you know, I, there would be so many times where I would be really upset about.

The amount of pressure that I was put on by media, public, myself, my coaches, and, you know, I was just told to toughen up. You've got no one to support you. And basically no one to help you navigate through a really difficult part of your life, let alone, um, the expectations of competing. Another big turning point for me was when my youngest son started swimming at a quite high level. I started to really think about why I didn't feel the way he does about swimming. He loves it. He's so passionate and it really bothered me that I had a very different psychological view of sport than he has. I, it was almost like I'd come full circle. So I guess that was what prompted me to, to want to  study it and understand, um, how the mind works really.

And not only that, but my sister having taken her life, um, in 2004 to go from being a very, very happy, you know, 34 year old woman with three little kids and, you know, a PE teacher at Cav Road High School very, had everything to live for. We all knew there was, she wasn't herself, but we…. If you knew her, you'd never think in a million years that that would be the outcome.

I couldn't wrap my head around how someone who seemed to have everything in life could make that decision.

I am extremely proud to be Queensland's mental health ambassador for so many reasons. Obviously the journey I have been on. I know a lot about mental health. My advice to people who are worried about someone, particularly in the workplace would be to find someone that you feel safe to talk to. And there's nothing wrong with seeing a psychologist.

Um, it can be the best thing that you ever did. I stupidly thought even when I was swimming and having all those problems, I thought, no, I don't need a psychologist. I'm, I'm strong. I'm tough. I can…. people tell me I'm strong and tough and can get through it. But, you know, seeing a psychologist back when I did was the best thing that I ever did. Ror me, it's extremely important to evoke a sense of a safe work place to my employees because you know, I want them to be able to come to work and be, have that feeling that they can talk to me about anything. Because I have only a very small team. I have a real awareness of how important it is as an employer to build the most positive team that I can. And just because I am the owner of a business doesn't mean that I have to pretend that my life is fantastic and I have all the answers because we all don't have the answers.

So we all need a bit of help.

in January this year, I started back swimming and I don’t know why I didn't do it years ago. It's just that feeling that I used to feel when I swam, but without the pressure. Managing my mental health, I guess is all about downtime. So obviously spending a lot of time with Cooper is my top priority. You know, he's such a good dog.

Having that safe workplace is just something that's right at the top of my priority along with my own mental health. Sometimes you're too scared to say, are you okay? You know, through my ambassadorial role, um, I hope, you know, to be able to change that just a little bit is to help people understand that by speaking up and saying that you're not coping, or you are finding things a bit difficult, then it's actually an empowering thing.

It's not something that you should be scared to admit.

Leave a comment for Hayley Lewis

Thank you for sharing your story, Hayley. I can recall watching your champion swims and wins and how incredible it was. Hearing you speak about your experiences so openly has been inspiring - thank you for raising awareness about mental health!