AWAKEN | CONNECT | LEAD
Ex-Army Officer, rescue helicopter pilot and mental health ambassador, Kevin Humphreys knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom. For a long time, Kevin kept his post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety buried deep. Today, Kevin shares what happens when you hit rock bottom, how he figured it out, and the triggers that made a difference in transforming his life.
Kevin’s 20 year military career flying Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters for the Australian Army is nothing short of stellar. At just 21, he earned the keys to a Blackhawk helicopter. Kevin would go on to complete several operational tours as both a pilot and commander in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan plus humanitarian operations in Papua New Guinea.
Despite Kevin’s direct exposure to rocket attacks, machine gun fire and highly risky rescue operations it wasn’t these experiences that made him feel his life was falling apart. Kevin says, “At the time, I didn’t know a single person who had experienced mental illness or suicide.” This fueled Kevin’s sense of failure and shame for ‘allowing’ a breakdown to happen, and a belief that he didn’t have the strength to go on.
A diagnosis of PTSD, depression and anxiety felt unacceptable to Kevin. While his return to work took nine months, Kevin kept his breakdown and illness a secret for seven years. Over time and with help, Kevin realised that he wasn’t a failure and his secret was holding him back from living a full life.
You’ll often hear Kevin say, “whilst you’ve got a brain and a blood supply you’re susceptible to mental illness, it doesn’t discriminate. The question is, will you have the courageous conversations required to turn this around?”.
When he joined the Army Kevin believed his life purpose was to serve his country through the profession of arms. Today, by pulling back the curtains on his own experience, Kevin’s purpose remains to serve but it now involves destigmatising mental illness, and empowering others to show courage and seek help.
It’s Kevin’s passionate belief that mental illness is normal, manageable and recoverable for most people. He shows that there is life after diagnosis and that it’s possible to return to the top of your game and beyond.
Since his recovery, Kevin has become a Flight Instructor and Examiner, and has held positions of Chief Pilot and Director of Operations in Search and Rescue helicopter organisations.
Kevin is a Community Ambassador for Mates4Mates, the Patron of PTSD Dogs Australia and the Mental Health Ambassador for AIRBUS Australia Pacific. He is touring all AIRBUS facilities across Australia and New Zealand in 2019.
“My feeling of failure was absolute and total. I felt I’d failed my country, the Army, my unit, my parents, my wife, my kids”.
ROLE MODEL RECOGNITION
Perhaps the highest praise that Kevin has received came in August 2018 when he visited The Hague to attend the investiture ceremony of a Dutch colleague who was being awarded the Military Order of William (equivalent to the Victoria Cross).
When introducing Kevin to the King and Queen of The Netherlands, the recipient stated that Kevin was his role model for his actions that led to the award.
For the last 10 years Kevin has featured in a number of books, media stories and other projects.
Painted portrait of Kevin Humphreys at the Australian War Memorial
Australian War Memorial Portrait
In 2009 official war artists Lyndell Brown and Charles Green painted a portrait of Kevin for the Australian War Memorial based on his deployments to Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007.
In 2016, veteran journalist Chris Masters interviewed Kevin as part of his book ‘No Front Line – ‘Australia’s Special Forces at War in Afghanistan’ about Kevin’s involvement in a battle 10 years earlier. This mission was also included in a Canadian book titled ‘No Ordinary Men’ by Colonel Bernd Horn.
Returned Services League magazine (Queensland) – October 2017.
To view article, click here.
QWeekend Magazine published a feature story about Kevin in the lead up to ANZAC Day 2018.
Air Pilot - Edition 2 2018.
Air Pilot - Edition 1 2019.
The Australian War Memorial - Documentary
In 2017, Kevin was interviewed by Chris Masters on behalf of the AWM for their ‘From the Shadows’ – the history of Australia’s Special Forces’ exhibition. The interview took two parts; firstly the operational aspects of missions in Afghanistan, secondly the impact on families and individually. View here.
Video 1: From the Shadows - (see 15:10 mark for Kevin's interview).
Video 2: From the Shadows - (see 08:50 mark for Kevin's interview).
September 2018 – Kevin was interviewed on The Rotary Wing Show podcast to talk about mental health in aircrew. With so much to talk about, it was split into two episodes - Part 1 is Kevin’s operational history that gives some context to Part 2, which is the mental illness episode.
September 2019 – Kevin was interviewed on Up For a Chat as part of the Wellness Couch collection. You can listen to that podcast here.
October 2019 - Kevin gave a keynote presentation at the inaugural Frontline Mental Health Conference held in Townsville. Following the presentation, Kevin sat down for a very candid interview on Pebble in the Pond podcast. You can access that podcast here.
September 2018 – Kevin was interviewed as part of the launch for the Stand Tall 4 Post Traumatic Stress convoy. It’s a quick (less than 2 mins) snapshot of what Kevin talks about and why. It had over 25,000 global hits on social media during the 3 week convoy. To view click here
November 2018 - Following Kevin’s presentation to the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation they released a short video which captures the essence of Kevin’s message encouraging courageous and compassionate conversations around mental illness.