By Melissa Keogh
Mt Barker man Chris ‘Savvy’ Savill is using one of the darkest times of his life to help others battle their own demons.
In 2017, Savvy, who spent time in the military before becoming a sound recordist and camera operator, experienced a serious bout of depression after work-related stress and other factors almost became too much.
He decided to seek help and see a psychologist, which in the end didn’t work for him, so instead he tried using his military experience to develop tactics to increase mental resilience and strength.
“When I got depression at the end of 2017 it hit me pretty hard,” Savvy says.
“I pulled the military tactics I knew and converted them into every day tactics to pull myself out of depression, and that’s how I got out of it. One friend in particular also stuck by me and urged me on and I did activities that I really enjoyed, one of them being hiking.”
Now Savvy is putting these tactics down on paper and converting them into an online training method that others can access and use in a way that works for them.
The mental health resource, Alpha Six, is still under development and Savvy is currently studying cognitive behavioural therapy and positive psychology to boost his theoretical knowledge to add to his personal experiences.
The Alpha Six outreach program was launched in January 2018 and has existed through a website and Facebook page as well as Savvy himself actively reaching out to people in need of support. So far, he says he has helped save the lives of five people who were on the brink of suicide.
“One of them was a homeless person and I pretty much sat with them throughout the night to make sure they weren’t alone because being alone can be a huge killer,” Savvy says.
“The next morning, I called them an ambulance. It took me all night to convince them to get help.”
Savvy also spreads the word about mental health awareness through his role as an RUOK community ambassador, one of only two in South Australia. RUOK is a suicide prevention charity that reminds people to have meaningful conversations with friends and family who might be struggling with life.
Savvy says he encourages people to adopt four steps when checking in with a friend or family member who is having a hard time.
“Firstly, ask them are they ok. Step two is listen to them in a non-judgemental way, step three is urge them to get professional help and step four is check up on them,” he says.
“All it takes is a conversation. When people have depression they just want to be heard.”
It’s not only the 2017 bout of depression which brought the importance of mental health into perspective for Savvy. Growing up in Cornwall England in the 1980s, Savvy had dyslexia, a learning disorder that makes it difficult to read, write and spell.
He struggled throughout primary school where his frustrated teachers dismissed his dyslexia for laziness, shouting at him to do better and calling him ‘stupid’. This made him a target for bullies.
“It really stripped me of my self-confidence and looking back on it now, I’m pretty sure I went through childhood depression. It wasn’t a pleasant time in my life,” Savvy says.
“But my parents were the best, they were absolute fighters, my mum got behind me and fought and fought to get dyslexia officially recognised in the schooling system. She would go to specialists and they did all kinds of tests on me to confirm that I did have dyslexia.”
But by the time Savvy finished high school he had failed most of his final exams, shooting his self-esteem further down but also building the determination he would use later in life.
It wasn’t until after he finished school when he fell in love with sound, one day discovering an audio mixer at a friend’s house. Still in the UK, he worked as a music producer before he was spotted by a sound designer from London’s West End Theatre where he worked for some time before the BBC grabbed hold of him.
“The BBC said they needed a sound assistant in their studios, so I applied and got it,” Savvy says.
“I mainly did their in-house productions, the big shows back then were Top of the Pops, EastEnders, and a kids show called Blue Peter. At Top of the Pops I got to work with 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani and Coldplay, which was really cool.”
Savvy met his now wife Meredith, prompting a move Down Under in 2006. His first job in Australia was helping establish and run an Aboriginal music centre in Tennant Creek in the outback.
It evolved into a recording studio where locals and Winanjjikari musicians could record their language, their stories and their traditional songs.
“It had a cultural significance because people would record the languages that were dying out, they were recorded for the National Archives,” Savvy says.
“We’d go to places where only two elders were left speaking those languages, so once they passed away they’d take the language with them. Now there’s an audio record, which is great.”
From the outback, Savvy went on to pursue his career in Adelaide, working at radio stations and at Channel 10 as an audio and camera operator on shows including Totally Wild.
He was there for almost a decade when the depression hit and he eventually left to continue his own solo sound pursuit – Savill Sound – providing sound services for all media platforms. He also works as a camera operator for sporting events and local film productions here in SA.
His audio and media producing and Alpha Six take up most of his time, but he has also visited schools as a motivational speaker.
“Looking back now, I have a really big driving force because of it,” Savvy says. “If somebody says I can’t do something I want to prove them wrong.”
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