‘I’m stronger than I’ve ever been’

Sam Frost is having a moment. Not only has she hit her career stride playing fan-favourite Jasmine Delaney on Home and Away, she’s also found love with long-time pal Dave Bashford and, right now, she’s killing it on the set of her b+s cover shoot.

The proud mum of two Maltese Shih tzus, Sam — who turned 30 in April — squeals with delight when Max, a neighbour’s Jack Russell, wanders into shot and her cheek-splitting grin is so infectious that everyone around her can’t help but smile, too.

It’s a portrait of pure happiness, and one that makes it hard to believe that just three years ago, this young woman was fighting to keep her head above water.

Back then, Sam was still recovering from a string of very public break-ups — including her shock split from The Bachelor’s Blake Garvey in 2014 and the demise of her relationship with Bachelorette winner Sasha Mielczarek in 2016 — and she was also struggling to ignore the daily hate from online trolls who took to social media to criticise her radio gig with Rove McManus.

“All of those things just piled up and I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore,” Sam says as we look for a quiet place to chat after the shoot. “I remember talking to my sister, Kristine, one night and I was so upset, I couldn’t stop crying. I just felt like my whole body was riddled with pain and that there was no way I could make it go away.”

It’s a raw but unsurprisingly honest admission. Ever since she burst on to our screens as a bright-eyed contestant in season two of The Bachelor, Sam has always been open about her battle with depression and anxiety.

“I’ve struggled with mental-health problems my whole life,” she reveals as we take a seat in the sunny backyard. “My mum, Debbie, has dealt with mental disorders as well, and when I was younger I was embarrassed by them. I love my mum — she’s so beautiful and resilient — but nobody talked about mental health 15 years ago, so when I started to show similar patterns, I was worried I’d be labelled as crazy.”

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Breaking the stigma

As she’s matured, Sam’s realised that depression and anxiety can affect anyone, but notes that most people are still too afraid to talk about it. “There’s a lot of shame and guilt surrounding mental health and it can feel really lonely. I think it’s amazing that more people are talking about it, but I think there’s still a stigma attached to it.”

While she credits Kristine for helping her out of that dark place in 2016, Sam’s well aware that not everyone has such a strong support network. After talking about her experiences with depression during her radio show, Sam was overwhelmed by the number of people who reached out to her with similar stories of mental illness, and with the help of her big sister, she felt compelled to unite them.

“When people started sharing their personal experiences with me I felt a strong sense of community and understanding, so I wanted to replicate that online. Both Kristine and I were inspired to create a safe space where people with mental-health struggles could connect with one another and never feel alone, so I launched my own website, Believe by Sam Frost.”

The site — which already boasts an Instagram following of over 23,000 — allows users to share their stories anonymously, read up on the warning signs of several mental conditions and submit questions to a clinical psychologist. “A lot of people go through lows, so I think it’s really important to enable these conversations so everyone feels more accepted. But I’m not an expert, so having a psychologist on board was really important,” adds Sam.

Despite only just entering her 30s, Sam speaks with the wisdom of someone twice her age, but when I ask if she’s always been so aware of her emotions, she shakes her head. “I struggled a lot when I finished school. I had no direction, gained 15 kilos and hid away from my friends without really knowing why. It took me until my mid-20s to realise that all those times I felt low, I was actually depressed.”

Finding her flow

These days, with the support of her psychologist and her partner Dave, Sam is able to recognise when her mental health is slipping — but the road to recovery hasn’t been an easy journey.

“Dave and I struggled at the beginning because I was hurting and he didn’t know how to deal with it. I would put up a wall and then he would distance himself and I’d be left thinking, ‘Come back!’ I have a lot of abandonment issues from my childhood and from losing my stepdad to a stroke a few years ago, so if something happens suddenly it can bring out my anxiety,” explains Sam. “It also means I tend to attract a lot of narcissists and toxic people because when they leave, it reinforces that abandonment and creates a cycle.”

While she admits she’s had her fair share of unhealthy relationships, both Sam and her psychologist agree that Dave is a keeper. “As our relationship’s evolved, he’s developed a greater understanding of who I am. He’s spoken to my psychologist and researches what to do when I’m struggling, and I think that’s pretty badass!” she laughs. “When my mental health starts to slip, I become really demotivated, I don’t want to see my friends, stop exercising and eat bad food, so when Dave recognises those things are happening, he’ll tell me to have a rest weekend.”

As well as leaning on Dave and her family for support, Sam also counts eating well, getting out in nature and ditching her phone as some of the best ways to maintain her mental health, but her number-one tip is to find a psychologist — and to stick with them. “The first two times I saw my psychologist I felt like I got nothing out of it — I spent so long going back over my past when all I wanted was a quick fix. The next time I saw her, though, we mapped out a plan and she helped me see things from a different perspective.”

When I comment on how far she’s come since the dark days of her 20s, Sam cracks one of her knockout smiles. “I was so excited to turn 30. I’ve grown so much and feel the happiest and strongest I’ve ever felt, but I’m always working on my mental health. Everyone should — even psychologists need to see a psychologist sometimes!”

If you need help now, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

3 ways to help you find your loved one

Sam’s sister Kristine, co-founder of believebysamfrost.com, shares her tips for supporting someone with a mental illness

“Knowing someone with a mental illness can be really upsetting,” Kristine reveals. “For me, seeing Sam suffer is hard, but as time’s gone on I’ve learnt that it’s just part of who she is. I’ve also learnt that I’m not a professional — I can’t solve her problems, but she knows that she can trust me and that I’m always there for her.” Here, Kristine shares her top dos and don’ts for supporting a loved one with mental-health struggles…

Do suggest they seek help

“When someone is really suffering, wait until they calm down to suggest they seek professional help. With Sam, I’ve found that she has to come to that realisation herself, so I make suggestions rather than tell her what to do.”

Don’t judge or get angry

“I’ve learnt not to get angry or frustrated with Sam because it makes the situation so much worse. I just count to 10 and stay mindful about what I say, because sometimes voicing my opinion can escalate the situation. Whatever it is she’s going though, I tell her it’s OK that she’s feeling this way and give her reassurance.”

Do follow up

“If your loved one is having a bad day, make sure you check in with them often. If I talk to Sam and she’s upset, once the conversation ends I’ll send her a couple of texts throughout the day to ask how she’s feeling.”