When one of the toughest women in sport broke down in tears mid-interview with Ellen DeGeneres, she surprised many.
Not only because she is known to be one of the most effective dispatchers in the business, or because we’ve become so used to seeing her come out on top, but because she seemed to break an unspoken code about talking about suicide candidly in the media.
After losing her title in a shock defeat to Holly Holm last November in Melbourne, Ronda Rousey revealed that she had contemplated taking her own life to the talk show host.
“When you get hit that hard, what happens to you? Do you feel it at the time?” DeGeneres asked the former UFC Bantamweight Champion.
“When you sit and you’re not moving, you’re still aware of where your body is, that’s like a part of your body that’s telling you where you are in space and it was like that kind of turned off,” Rousey said.
“I was like swinging blindly, I knew she was out there, but I really don’t remember most of it.
“I was trying my best … to kind of hide the fact that I wasn’t even there anymore.”
When asked if she was concerned that the damage from Holm’s initial blow could have lasting implications, Rousey was overcome with emotion recalling her experience.
“Honestly … I thought, I was in the medical room and I was sitting down in the corner and I was like, ‘What am I anymore if I’m not this?’”
“I was literally sitting there thinking about killing myself and in the exact second, I’m like, ‘Nothing … what do I do anymore? No one gives a shit about me anymore without this’,” she said.
“To be honest I looked up and my man Travis was standing there and I looked up at him and I was like, “I need to have his babies, I need to stay alive!’”
Rousey was applauded for having the courage to share her experience but sadly, this wasn’t the star’s first brush with suicide.
A week later in a separate interview, Rousey revealed that both her father and grandfather had taken their own lives.
The UFC star, who has “never shied away from talking about suicide”, also addressed talking about mental illness publicly, breaking down the stigma and not “damning” those who are affected.
According to the Centre of Research Excellence in Suicide Prevention, suicide is the biggest killer of Australians aged 15-44 years old, the financial strain of which is estimated to be costing us $17.5 billion, or roughly one per cent of GDP.
But it is stories like Rousey’s that can be the difference between saving lives, Gayle McNaught of the Black Dog Institute said.
“Positive stories where people outline their experiences and journeys back from poor mental health do help to reduce stigma, but more importantly, they also encourage people to seek help.”
“Stories like Ronda Rouseys’ can be really useful because they highlight recovery – [that] it is possible to get better and seeking help is the first step,” Ms McNaught said.
“It’s also helpful when famous people discuss their mental health battles honestly, sharing how they felt and how they dealt with it. Whilst everyone’s journey is different, having some of the common symptoms highlighted really can raise awareness, particularly in young people that may not fully grasp the importance of dealing symptoms early.
“Often people don’t recognise the symptoms, particularly young people, they don’t recognise their symptoms as a mental illness, so reading about it might make them think, ‘Hmm, maybe I should seek medical help’,” she said.
While Ronda has indicated her desire to keep fighting, her decision to speak out about the pain of loss and failure was intended to send a message.
“Everyone has their moment of picking themselves up off the floor and I’d gone through several of mine, but no one had actually seen me go through it,” she told DeGeneres.
“Maybe I just had to be the example of picking myself [up] off the floor for everyone … I really do believe that I’m still undefeated because being defeated is a choice.”
If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.