Interview with a Mental Health Leader: Nicole Gibson

by | Mar 30, 2015 | Mental Health

Interview with a Mental Health Leader: Nicole Gibson

by | Mar 30, 2015 | Mental Health

I feel like the word ‘inspirational’ is thrown around a lot. I’ve heard the label ‘inspirational’ applied to the following things: dogs running in shoes, a man eating 100 hot dogs in 20 minutes, and a woman finding a full outfit that matches her leopard-print handbag.

Today I’m going to apply the label to someone that is truly deserving, and that person is Nicole Gibson. (And yes, I am waiting for someone to argue that eating 100 hot dogs is damn well inspirational, please leave your comment below).

Nicole is an inspirational woman and leader. She is the CEO and founder of the Rogue & Rogue Foundation, a not-for-profit whose aim is to reverse the stigmatisation of mental health by empowering young people to be masters of their lives. Nicole was a finalist for Young Australian of the Year 2014, one of Australia’s top 100 most influential women, appointed onto the National Mental Health Commission as the youngest ever commissioner, and won The Pride of Australia Inspiration Medal in 2014. I’ll just give you a moment to take all of that in.

I recently interviewed Nicole about the Rogue & Rouge foundation and her views on leadership. Her passion for what she does came through so effortlessly and blew me away. Did I mention that Nicole has recently facilitated workshops at 300+ schools and communities across Australia? Yeah, awesome. Below is the key themes that came from our talk.

Transforming Young Aussies into Masters of Their Lives

If I had to describe Nicole in two words it would be “Connection” and “Dreamer”. Nicole described herself as a “big dreamer” and wants to let people know that we are all connected; we all need love.

These two things: Connection and Dreams are evident in her work. Nicole and the R&R team are currently facilitating 3-month well-being and leadership programs in rural communities. The camps involve an online component as well and aim to give young people the skills to be masters of their own lives. As well as working with young people, R&R also work with service providers and engages teachers and parents. It does this to help give other people insight to what young people are going through in their lives. This community-level, multifaceted approach reflects R&R’s grassroots ambitions. R&R believes that by empowering each individual young person we can create change right across Australia.

Nicole reminded me that having these workshops in rural communities is likely to be the first time that young people have heard about mental health, self-care, and being leaders. This is why the program is 3-months in these communities. In regional schools where there are more service providers the programs run for 9-weeks. In both cases, the programs are well-received. Nicole told me of a recent instance where a young person came up to her after a workshop and said that she now knew where she wanted to go in her life. Even just to have one student say that tells me that R&R are having a positive impact on young lives.

What Nicole most wants young people to get out of her workshops is this: ‘We’re all connected but, at the same time, there’s only one you. Comparing yourself is a dead-end task: be yourself.’

What Do Young People Need? The Answer: Connection and Love

Nicole went around Australia and asked young people what they want. She found out that they want what all of us want: connection and love. More importantly, she found out that young people often were not getting these two needs through traditional forms of help, like mental health professionals (e.g., psychologists, psychiatrists). What young people need to know, then, is that there are options other than clinical help for connection and love, and this is Nicole’s life purpose.

She believes that focusing on love can prevent destructive behaviours. In a perfect example of this, she told me the story of how a young person asked her, ‘how would you stand up to a bully?’ Nicole asked the young person to think about how the bully was feeling: scared. And what’s the opposite of fear? Love. How could you show the bully love? And the young person said, ‘by hugging them’. I laughed, it was such an innocent answer! But the young person did just that: the next time they were bullied, they hugged them and it diffused their behaviour. Nicole tells me it started a whole movement at the school where all students now hug their bullies! Coolest story ever.

Advice for Aspiring Young Mental Health Leaders

Nicole says, ‘Have humility. If you can be humble, you will be able to lead. Treat leadership as a position of service (and not as a position of self-importance). Way too many leaders talk and don’t listen.’ In the end, leadership is all about how we treat each other. If we can treat each other with love independent of what we look like then we can prevent many social ailments (including mental illness). Ultimately, this is what Nicole teaches young people, and I’m proud to have her spreading that message to make a better Australia.

If you’d like to know more about Nicole and the Rogue & Rouge Foundation (“What does “Rogue & Rogue” mean I hear you ask) please visit their website at:

If you are currently living with an eating disorder, please call The Butterfly Foundation support line on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE). A list of emergency mental health numbers can be found here.