The text message that saved me from suicide inspired my business

As a start-up founder, PTSD Awareness Week almost killed me… The irony of this isn’t lost on me for a moment. As a veteran with Complex PTSD, maybe putting my foot into the start-up ring before I had all my mental ducks in a row wasn’t such a good idea.

But, I jumped in anyway, because the army taught me that courage is acting despite fear, and relentlessly pressing forward is how we win.

Yet, in the very week the media beseeched us to spare a moment’s thought for those 2M Australian’s dealing with PTSD – the very same week I discover my 66wk old start-up has received Defence funding and received an invitation to meet with the Minister for Veteran Affairs – I’m completely unable to leave my bed. I spent three days wrapped in blankets, working hard to deny the voices that reify my Imposter Syndrome, telling me I’m not qualified. I can’t do this. I’m a failure / fool / traitor / etc.

I just wanted to find some peace

I launched after my suicide attempt in 2016 was interrupted by an SMS, and we’ve since created world-first, international award-winning tech that lets people detect and manage stress on a Fitbit smartwatch. This year, I’ve been flown to Switzerland to accept a global innovation award and recently returned from the U.S. after meeting with people who will turn our little company into a global catalyst. While all this sounds incredibly exciting, the point is despite all the bright lights and attention, all I wanted to do was pull away from the world and find some peace.

But, I’m a veteran, and this kind of thinking isn’t new to far too many of my veteran mates. Our rate of mental health issues spans depression, anxiety and chronic stress from our service to this country that’s twice the national average. But after 16 months in this space, and after speaking with other founders who’ve burnt out, literally collapsed in the streets from exhaustion, and destroyed intimate / personal relationships out of their commitment to ‘the win’, I’m glad to find I’m not alone.

I’m not here to whinge. Quite the opposite. I’m simply openly saying what too many of us fear to say, start-up life is a fucking hard slog, and things need to change.

Entrepreneurs, according to a study by Michael Freeman, are 50% more likely to report having a mental health condition, with some specific conditions being incredibly prevalent amongst founders. Founders are:

6X more likely to suffer from ADHD

3X more likely to suffer from substance abuse

10X more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder

2X more likely to have psychiatric hospitalisation

2X more likely to have suicidal thoughts

The first thing that falls away is the time I spent looking after myself

It’s no surprise why. I spend so much time worrying about finding, hiring and firing the people we need, making sure we can keep the doors open, filtering good advice from bad, choosing to pivot (or not), balancing work, life, money, time etc. that the first thing that falls away is the essential time I used to take to look after myself.

Our economy, our society, desperately needs entrepreneurs. Our self-selected, self-flagellating gig is to create jobs, new markets, products and services, and hopefully, make enough money to live…let along thrive and survive. To be honest, I have zero desire to be the next Elon Musk or Mark (the robot) Zuckerberg. But I’m 100% committed to solving the problem I’ve invested my life savings and reputation on.

I’m not going to end veteran suicide; I accept that. The Senator from Townsville’s recent impassioned speech about the burden on our community and the families who are left to grieve – after those we love or served with did the unforgivable and gave up – is what gets me out of bed 99% of the time.

I accept during my dark moments that I have to be alive to play a role in being part of the change that’s needed so we bury less mates. So, whilst it’s difficult to admit that I have a mental health issue, I have to go on record as I’ve discovered I’m not alone.

Ridiculous transparency and admitting when we struggle, fuck up or miss a turn is a crucial part of’s company culture. So yes, I often contemplate a world where I don’t have to get out of bed, far more than I’d like to admit. But then I remember why I started, and I turn and face the wonderful people around me who’ve been such a significant part of our journey. I do what the women I lost getting to where I am today reminded me almost daily to do: breathe, and be vulnerable.

You must have courage to ask for help

Vulnerability means admitting we can’t do this alone. It also means having the courage to ask for help. Both of which are deeply foreign to me, though I’m slowly learning to step outside my comfort zone.

Darren Chester, Minister for Veteran Affairs Darren Chester is deeply invested in supporting our veterans, and the Department of Veteran Affairs are working hard to serve the veterans who reach out to them for support, but even in my community, far too few of us ask for help, for a range of reasons spanning confusion, social stigma, and lack of time. That’s why it’s essential start-ups like mine, RedSix and Swiss 8 do the grunt work that desperately needs to be done at our level to create change.

I’d argue that the start-up community needs to do the same thing we’ve started doing in the veteran community. Start-up founders need to support their peers. Likewise, we need to have the courage to admit we’re not OK.

Famed TED talk social researcher and vulnerability guru Brene Brown said specifically about my community that when pondering life after service, the problem for men and women who’ve served ‘on purpose’ is that when transitioning to life as a civilian ‘just living isn’t enough’.

I’d argue that’s equally true for founders. We don’t choose this life because it’s an easy path. There’s a measure of hope, belief and sweat required to stay on mission. It’s that certainty of purpose that got us started, but as I’ve recently learned, it’s the support of our cohort that keeps that fire alive.

As a veteran & founder, I find I’m getting better at surviving this epic journey the more frequently I have the courage to admit I don’t have all the answers. Today, when I find myself struggling at this vertiginous life, I actively seek support.

That doesn’t mean that I always find it, but it’s certainly helping me stay out of bed on the days I’d rather emulate a Groundhog and avoid daylight, and that’s a start…

Brand Tales: A word with …Chris Rhyss Edwards

Republished article from Brand Tales

The soldier turned content expert now helps military veterans face the future.

Chris Rhyss Edwards is not your average content specialist and author. After serving his country as an army combat engineer, Edwards became a successful digital media professional and content director, most recently at Comexposium. Last year, he launched, a business that develops apps to help the quality of life of former soldiers.

Brand Tales: What is

Chris Rhyss Edwards: I’m a veteran who has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of a fairly violent upbringing as well as a decade of service in the army. I formed as a company to develop smart apps for my fellow veterans to help them monitor and manage their anxiety, stress and PTSD. The sad fact is a veteran takes their life every hour – we lose about 10,000 a year in the Western world. My team and I are working hard to create a smartwatch app that’s purpose-built to help veterans stay in control of their stress and PTSD, with the ultimate aim of trying to reduce the high suicide rate in the veteran community.

BT: Why is this project so important to you?

Edwards: We’ve lost more veterans to suicide than in combat in Afghanistan, so I’m deeply frustrated every time I hear that another veteran has taken their life because either the system has let them down or because they can’t find support. I honestly believe that one of the fastest ways to help veterans is to give them a practical app they can use on their smartwatch to help them help themselves by tracking and managing their anxiety and stress before things get out of hand.

BT: How did a former soldier end up as a content strategist?

Edwards: The only two things I ever wanted to do in life was be a soldier and a writer. After I left the military I moved into the digital media sector and by luck ended up almost exclusively working on projects that focused on developing commercially successful content for various brands like Blockbuster, NewsCorp and Clemenger BBDO. I love the written word – I’m a total word nerd – so I enjoy employing words well to engage people and persuade them to change behaviour.

BT: You completed a postgraduate Master of Creative Industries, majoring in Content Commercialisation, at QUT in 2012. What was the main thing you gained from that experience?

Edwards: How to write for different audiences and mediums. I originally signed up for the course to learn how to write non-fiction better as I’d been working on a book for over a year. What I took away from the course was a set of skills around writing for screen, print and social media, and these skills have been incredibly useful in recent years.

BT: In 2014, you wrote: “The only way content will ever regain our attention is when brands start giving us real value, when they start leveraging the age-old idea of storytelling to recapture our attention and imagination.” Have you seen much improvement since then?

Edwards: Absolutely. There are so many brands finally investing the time and effort to create deeply personal or compelling content that gives consumers value for the time they invest to consume it. The quality of long- and short-form text and video content has significantly improved, though there’s still a lot of absolute drivel out there because far too many people are still creating content for content’s sake. I’m genuinely excited about the way some brands are tapping into influencer marketing and using brand advocates to create content that tells truly personal brand stories that engage. The category doing this best has to be cosmetics – there have been some fantastic user-generated content campaigns in recent months from Estee Lauder and Lush Cosmetics, so I think a lot of other verticals could learn a few lessons from this innovative category.

“More brands [are] approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just ‘being seen’.”

BT: What kind of content marketing works best for you as a consumer now?

Edwards: I think influencer marketing is true to its name. I tend to trust recommendations from friends, family and Facebook over blatant brand marketing, so when I see someone I respect who has a significant social following sharing news or reviews of a product, I tend to listen.

BT: What are your favourite examples of Australian content marketing (or branded content)?

Edwards: One of my personal favourite local brands creating beautiful content that’s caught my attention and swayed me to purchase has been Mon Purse. It manufactures and sells premium made-to-order bags and accessories, and I’d seen its beautiful social assets for months, thinking “yeah, that’s beautiful, but I’m a guy and bags aren’t my bag”, then I saw an ad for a patent leather monogrammed wallet and I was hooked. Because it’d been pushing out good content across various social channels for months, I felt comfortable enough to purchase something I’d never bought online previously. Brilliant.

BT: Globally, which company does a great job with its content?

Edwards: Everyone says Red Bull because it’s a media powerhouse these days, but I’d say Tesla is the best ambassador for content marketing done well. Its recent launch of a Tesla into space captured the world’s attention, and that’s just the latest example of the great work it does inside a company that operates on a ridiculously slim advertising and marketing budget. Its entire marketing focus is on two things: earned media and cultivating a global community of raving fans. To me, there’s no other brand out there that does this as well.

BT: What’s the future of content marketing in Australia?

Edwards: I think Australia’s had a bumpy start in the content marketing space, but I see light at the end of the tunnel. The sad debacle around the iSentia acquisition of content agency King Content – quickly followed by the closing of the agency – took the wind out of the sector for a while, which I think that was a good thing.

When content marketing became the buzzword, almost overnight every agency pivoted and became a content marketing agency. There was a lot of noise, smoke and mirrors that resulted in clients paying way too much for meagre campaign-focused work that had little genuine brand insight or well-thought-through strategy. Thankfully, I now see more brands approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just “being seen”. Some agencies have truly earned their stripes in this space; the work out of Edge and Edelman has been great.

I’m also gladdened to see the content discovery sector has evolved, too. Too many people assume content campaigns go viral simply because they’re cute or compelling content, when the truth is most viral campaigns have a significant paid component to them. So, seeing the growth in the integration of content discovery platforms, such as Taboola and Outbrain, as well as paid social media advertising across Facebook and YouTube in media plans and schedules is a great sign marketers understand that content marketing is as equally about creating great content as it is about ensuring the content gets seen.