Surviving depression: Matt Chisholm’s brave decision to quit TV

''I had everything I ever wanted in my life, but I'd never been so unhappy.''
Matt Chisholm and Wife Ellen

For most people, New Year’s Eve is a time for both celebration and making resolutions.

But as the year clicked over to 2018, Celebrity Treasure Island host Matt Chisholm set himself just one goal: survive.

“It wasn’t to have as much fun in life as I could, which would have been my resolution 10 years ago,” he tells. “It was to survive. That’s how I felt going into that year.”

Already unhappy, he had no idea that the events in the months ahead would create a perfect black storm that would see him spiral downwards. Nor did he know that by December he would hit rock bottom.

“I got to the end, met my last work deadline and I just collapsed,” Matt recalls.

“And I allowed myself to feel and be honest and just go ‘F***ing hell, I’ve got to get off this train.’ It was killing me.”

The busy journalist had kicked off 2018 with a seven-week stint in Thailand to host Survivor NZ, before returning to Auckland, where he started a new role on TVNZ’s Sunday.

Meanwhile, he was living in a small rental, had a one-year-old son, Bede, and his wife Ellen, 35, was pregnant with their second child.

“Someone in HR said I probably shouldn’t do Sunday, Survivor and have another baby all in the one year, but I thought, it’s better to burn out than fade away,” the 42-year-old says.

“That was always my attitude to life.”

Determined, Matt threw himself into his job, but it began to take its toll.

Previously, as a presenter on Fair Go and Seven Sharp, he was used to balancing the heavy stories with the fun, but this wasn’t the case on Sunday, where all of his work was serious and he found himself increasingly tired and stressed.

In April, Ellen and Matt welcomed baby Finn to the world, and the sleepless nights and exhaustion known by every parent of a newborn only amplified his feelings.

But through it all there was one colleague who he could connect and talk to – Greg Boyed.

A fellow TVNZ journalist, Greg was set to travel to Switzerland for a family holiday in August, but noticed something was amiss with a tweet Matt sent, so reached out to his mate to ask if he was OK.

“I told him I was doing it pretty rough,” Matt recalls. “And he said he was doing it really rough too and that we should catch up.”

Two days before Greg was due to fly out, they did just that. Sharing their struggles, they reassured each other that they weren’t going to do “anything silly”.

But the following week, while Matt and his family were in the South Island having what should have been a restorative holiday, news of 48-year-old Greg’s sudden death broke.

“I picked up my phone and saw it,” Matt says, breaking into sobs. “It was a news alert just popping up on my phone.”

Matt was heartbroken after losing his friend Greg.

Heartbroken, he was grateful to be with his family at the time, including his in-laws and mum. Knowing he was friends with Greg, TVNZ colleagues were also supporting him with texts and phone calls.

“The main thing we actually connected on, the thing we had in common, was that we were country kids who felt we didn’t really belong in the newsroom,” Matt tells.

“We both felt that one day someone was going to tap us on the shoulder and say that we’d had a good run but it’s time to go. That we didn’t deserve to be there.”

Devastated, Matt returned to Auckland. But things only got worse. “I was really, really buggered by this stage – not sleeping, not exercising, not doing anything for me. I was just surviving,” he admits.

“I had everything I ever wanted in my life, but I’d never been so unhappy,” he says.

“I’d done so many stories on this stuff. I knew I needed to connect with people, I knew I needed to get fit, but I was just in a hole and couldn’t get out of it. For a good part of the year my best mates were ringing me, but I just didn’t want to communicate with anyone.”

The broadcaster admits to exploding at work – something he’d never done before – and when he got angry about something small at home, Ellen knew she had to step in.

Matt’s wife Ellen is grateful she was strong enough to help him in his time of need.

The busy mum had suffered postnatal depression when Bede was a baby and admits she feels guilty about not recognising the symptoms in her husband earlier.

“Here was my chance to stand up for him and be the rock,” she shares, adding how supportive Matt had been for her.

“I knew what to do to make him better. I knew he had to exercise, I knew he needed to go and get medication,” Ellen says, grateful she was strong enough to help him.

The first thing she did was make a call to the man Matt views as a father figure – veteran journalist Mike Valentine. Estranged from his own dad since he was 15, it was Mike who gave Matt his first job in TV and who has mentored and supported him through the years.

He gave Ellen the name of a doctor who could help.

From there, steps were put in place to help Matt.

He took seven weeks off work, saw a psychologist, went on medication and took a mindfulness course. He also started rowing and running, but he admits that it was far from easy.

“I felt like I was 100 years old carrying 150kg,” he says. “I’d get home from my run and just cry.”

He drove to the South Island on his own, listening to music and soaking in the spectacular beauty of New Zealand.

“I threw the kitchen sink at it because I knew life could be so good.”

Matt’s ready to be a stay-at-home dad with Finn (left) and Bede.

And after around five months, Matt came out of his black hole and could see a brighter future.

Now resigned from his role at Sunday, Matt and his young family are heading to Central Otago to live a country life. It’s something the couple, who’ve been married for four years, have always dreamed of.

Both growing up in the South Island, they purchased land near Ellen’s family in 2015 and some more in 2018. And that’s where they’ll move next year.

But Kiwis shouldn’t be worried about Matt disappearing from their television screens because he’s keen to keep a hand in.

“If I can live in that part of New Zealand with my family and experience what is good about that life, and experience what is good about the industry I’m in, then that would be the greatest thing,” he says, adding that his ultimate dream would be to work on Country Calendar.

With Ellen working in PR from home, Matt will project manage the building of their house and be a stay-at-home dad.

“We’ve got a blank canvas down there, in a really beautiful part of New Zealand,” he gushes. “We’re going to put on the gumboots and the gear and just get out there and create a home for ourselves!”

Where to get help:

If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the Suicide Crisis Helpline on 0508 TAUTOKO, text “help” to Lifeline on 4357 or call them on 0800 543 354.

For other mental health issues, call 0800 111 757, text 4202 to talk to a trained counsellor free or call Youthline on 0800 376 633.

Related stories