Julie Goodwin on food, cooking and her mental health


Culinary personality and cook Julie Goodwin has a complicated long-term relationship with mental well-being.

“I would describe mental wellness as my dance partner,” Goodwin told SBS. “I have to focus on my dance partner and just hold him. Not too tight, but I can’t let go either.

“Sometimes we’re in sync and sometimes I completely lose the rhythm and have to go back to class to relearn the steps. Sometimes my dance partner gets screwed because I have two left feet. They leave the building and I have to convince them to come back doing whatever makes me a better dancer.

Goodwin’s analogy is insightful. It describes the fragile grip we all have on mental well-being and the changing nature of mental health. For her, mental health issues cannot be expressed in generalized terms because they are not simplistic concepts. Mental health is complex, circumstantial and variable.

Mental health is also very personal. For Goodwin, who first came to public attention during the inaugural season of MasterChef Australia in 2009, living with depression was a lifelong struggle. His first hospitalization for treatment, which lasted six weeks, was in 2020 and there have been others since.

“Depression doesn’t really have a starting or ending point. It is not a linear path. It is a continuous process to be well.

Goodwin mentions that during past depressive episodes she “lost the joy of everything,” including the joy she gained from food and cooking that is usually so visible when you see the star on television.

“Depression doesn’t really have a starting or ending point. It is not a linear path. It is a continuous process to be well.

However, the cook reports that she has since regained a sense of mental well-being. They are together again and are dancing again.

“I don’t really know how to explain ‘how’ I started to find this feeling [of wellness], only that it wasn’t the flip of a switch. It was more of a process that involved many different things – professional health care, medication, time in nature, time with my family, and reevaluating my professional life.

“Basically it was a number of things that worked together to bring me back to a life of joy and purpose.”

Cooking food for loved ones was one of those parts of life that Goodwin always enjoyed. So when her sanity dance partner returned, she felt inspired to cook again.

“For those who find a creative outlet in the kitchen, it can be one of the self-care activities that can prove so important to your mental well-being. For me, being able to tap into things that once gave me joy, including cooking, music and art, was a sign of healing.

Why it’s important to talk, talk, talk

These days, Goodwin can often be found in her kitchen at home preparing a delicious meal for her beloved family, or sitting at their dining table sharing food and conversations about good. – to be mental.

“Any time [I sit] around the table with my family, everyone must share their highlight of the day. In recent years, largely because of what happened to me, we’ve also added the question “how’s your head?”

“It’s made for some pretty enlightening conversations at the dinner table, but it also means my adult sons know this isn’t something they should keep to themselves.”

“In recent years, largely because of what happened to me, we also added the question ‘how’s your head?'”

As a result, the matriarch believes her sons are able to talk about mental health to her, their father, their partners and each other “without the slightest shred of fear or stigma”.

“We can support each other through tough days instead of having to bear them alone. We all understand that there doesn’t have to be a concrete reason for a day to be difficult. We don’t have to rush with solutions – we can just agree and reach out. I absolutely credit this openness on this difficult subject, with frank discussion in the non-threatening arena of the dinner table.

It’s that kind of open and honest talk about mental health issues that Beyond Blue and Goodwin want to replicate at dinner tables across the country. The organization estimates that approximately 45% of people in Australia will face a mental health problem in their lifetime. So there’s a lot of honest Goodwin-style chatter that hasn’t happened yet.

Goodwin, who is an ambassador for the charity, recently lent her support to Beyond Blue’s Large Blue Table. Running throughout October, the fundraising initiative encourages people to host a meal and talk about mental health with fellow eaters.

Her hope is that by gathering for a meal, people can begin to normalize the topic of mental health as a natural part of dinner conversation. Once this happens, individuals may also feel much freer to speak up about their own well-being and seek help when they need it. “That would be, for me, the best result of all,” she says.

Of course, some people may find mental health a difficult topic to talk about or listen to. But, Goodwin explains, if there’s someone in your life who’s hurting, simply listening to them without judgment “can be a safe place for them to land.”

“If you are in pain yourself, talk, talk, talk. Shine a light in those dark corners. Fear, shame and despair will move away from the light.

“Conversations save lives.”

To learn more about Beyond Blue’s ‘Big Blue Table’ event, visit bigbluetable.com.au. If you or someone you know needs help, please contact beyond the blue at 1300 225 636, safety rope on 13 11 14 or Child Helpline 1800 55 1800.

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