Donna Thistlethwaite – A powerful message about Mental Health

Meet Donna Thistlethwaite

Donna’s personal experience of a mental health crisis that led to a suicide attempt back in 2012 has led to her Next Chapter where she provides speaking and training on mental health/ psychological safety/ resilience to the corporate market. “Speaking is incredibly fulfilling for me. I feel energised and excited when I’m sharing my message”.

Tell me a little about yourself – where are you from and who and what is important in your life?

I’m a Brisbane girl who always makes her way back home. Love the climate here and the many opportunities to be outdoors.

My family – partner and son and my youngest sister are the most important people in my lives. I have a passion for cycling and always ensure that I fit in two or three rides a week. I feel incredibly grateful to have a passion that happens to be good for you.

My business is also really important to me. I enjoy working and as challenging as it can be sometimes I like that I am accountable for my outcomes.

We all have previous chapters in our stories – Tell me about your working life/business experiences before now?

I’m on my fourth occupation now. The first 15 years of my career I worked in administrative roles, mainly because that was one of my few options post-school. I didn’t work too hard in the later years of my high school education – well not on school work anyway. My part-time job at McDonald’s and my social life kept me pretty busy back then.

When I was in my mid-20s I realised that I had champagne taste and a beer budget and decided to study part-time while working so that I could take control over something in my life. I completed my Bachelor of Business majoring in Human Resource Management (HR) in the middle of 2000 and by then had been working in an administrative HR role for a couple of years. I went on to have a 15-year career in that profession as well.

In 2013 I made another career transition into career coaching, deciding that it meet my need to help others and provide an opportunity to continue to use some of the skills I developed in HR. In 2014 I set up my own business career coaching as a side hustle while contracting as a Career Transition Consultant. Mid 2014 I transitioned full-time into my career coaching business. I have to say the administrative and people skills that I developed in the early stages of my career have served me incredibly well in my own business.

Please provide a snapshot of your business

I currently provide speaking and training on mental health/psychological safety/resilience to the corporate market and career coaching programs to individuals. I am currently transitioning to focus more of my time and energy into speaking and training.

I am pretty much my business. I have a VA who does a small amount of admin work for me each week.

My business has grown year on year since I started and has definitely experienced the most significant growth over the past two years.

Assuming you are now in “Your Next Chapter”, what led you here? Tell me about your purpose, your why, the difference you want to make, who you are called to serve?

I feel like the path was revealed to me really. I experienced a mental health crisis, I attempted suicide to be specific, back in 2012. This shocked both me and the small number of people that we shared this information with. My crisis was triggered at work and led to me deciding to leave my job and retrain with a view to setting up my own career coaching practice in the future.
All my life I have enjoyed helping people – this is when I feel my happiest and most fulfilled. I had seen many people not love their jobs and I’d never understood that. I think it’s important to at least enjoy what we do because we spend so much time at work.In late 2016 I started sharing my personal story a bit with friends when it was relevant to do so. Actually in December 2016 I was nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year at my Chamber of Commerce and I put it out to the universe that if I won the award I would put a post on FB that talked about transitioning from a dark place to winning the award to inspire and give hope to others. I won and it was a turning point in my life in terms of owning my story and accepting myself. Not long before I had started a quest to work out what I needed for a fulfilling life and my life became more and more fulfilling.In early 2017 I was approached by Australian Story about featuring my story in an episode of their show (they had me on their radar because I shared my story anonymously years and agreed for it to be featured in an ABC podcast). Australian Story effectively launched my speaking career. At the time it came up I had been visualising myself speaking to large groups and initially thought the topic was careers but one day had a realisation that I must be meant to share my personal story.For the past two years, I have been speaking at corporate and community events and conferences to build awareness of the risks of mental illness, to impart the resilience strategies that changed my life for the better and to give people hope.

What did you find most challenging about getting started/moving in a new direction?

Wanting to do everything and realising that I needed to let go of some things to be able to move forward.

Occasionally feeling overwhelmed by everything that I want and need to do.

Working out how to present myself with multiple career roles.

What have you found most fulfilling?

Speaking is incredibly fulfilling for me. I feel energised and excited when I’m sharing my message. The learning journey I have been on over the past 6 years has been amazing too.

Have you experienced self-doubt? What causes it to flare and how do you work through it when it hits?

Definitely. Self-doubt was a major factor in my mental health crisis. Unfortunately, I didn’t respond well to it back then – getting caught in a negative spiral that got out of control.
I have experienced other bouts of self-doubt since but thankfully never to that extent. I went through a process of accepting myself a few years ago and it significantly reduced the frequency and depth of self-doubt I experience.When I feel self-doubt now I am able to reconnect with the things that I have achieved in the past quite easily. I listen to my body and try to work out why I am feeling that way. I will speak to someone about how I’m feeling rather than stay in my head with it when it can wreak havoc on my mind and grow way bigger than it needs to.

How do you feel you have grown since you started?

I have grown massively since I started my business although it has happened so incrementally that sometimes you even wonder if it’s happening. I’ll occasionally reflect when I do something (eg. using Xero or WordPress) and realise how easy it is and that it wasn’t always that way.

What has been most effective for you when it comes to sharing your message and attracting clients?

The great thing about speaking is that it is a form of marketing in itself. People see you speak and they often invite you to speak somewhere else. I love this because other forms of marketing such as FB ads and cold calling haven’t felt easy for me. I have done some blogging and vlogging which I think are useful for profile building and marketing. My speaker reel has attracted a few prospects.

Active involvement in my Chamber of Commerce has generated some career coaching clients.

Finally, I have a great SEO consultant who has brought many leads into my business.

Have you developed any particular habits/strategies that facilitate getting things done in your business?

Thankfully I am fairly good at taking action but I have to admit it’s not always on what I say I’m going to work on. I have found quarterly planning very useful and I love the idea of calendar blocking although I don’t feel like I’ve mastered it yet (that is one of my goals for 2020).

I start work around 8.30 am each day and generally dress as though I’m going to work rather than sitting in my downstairs office which is what I’m generally doing.

I have a daily meditation practice that I think helps to declutter my mind and I generally get seven hours of sleep each night.

Why do you feel women in the 40’s and beyond make fabulous entrepreneurs?

Women have so many skills and attributes to offer the marketplace, with many honed from roles such as parenthood. Many women want to contribute to society and their families and entrepreneurship can be a great way to do this (sometimes it doesn’t feel like there’s a choice because frequently the market isn’t offering the flexibility they desire). I think as women mature many worry less about being judged and feel empowered to get on with what they want.

What would you say to other women who are standing on the edge of their own Next Chapter, not sure if they can take the leap?

Do it, life is too short to hold back or to have regrets. There is lots of support out there – actually make sure that you get support because it can be lonely on your own. As your income grows, invest in yourself and keep investing in yourself.

What’s next for you? Share your vision!

Transitioning fully from career coaching to speaking and training on psychological safety and wellbeing. I want to be a sought after speaking on this topic in the Australian corporate market. I want to touch more lives – giving hope and practical skills to reduce mental illness and promote thriving.

When I’m facing a something new and challenging I…

Often speak to friends and family or others who have been there before. I like to talk and canvass the opinions of others.

I know my greatest strengths are…

My positive energy and determination/persistence.

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given is…

A colleague once told me to buy a house rather than a unit because the value was in the land. That advice led to me making $400K on the sale of the property 10 years later.

One of my favourite books is…

Dare to Lead or anything else by Brene Brown

My favourite Podcast is…

Quote of the Day

My favourite business tool or resource is…


My favourite quote is…

Whether you think you can or you think you can’t you’re right.

Not many people know that I…

Had photos of motorcycles on my walls as a youngster when my friends had posters of pop stars on theirs!


You can connect with Donna here.

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Angela Raspass

Mentoring women in their 40's and beyond to build sustainable businesses blending contribution, fulfilment and financial reward.

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