When Forster’s Lewis Herod was 16, he was struck down with crippling anxiety that left him unable to leave the house. He felt he had no choice but to leave high school to focus on regaining his health.
“My anxiety was debilitating. I was in a bad place. I didn't know what to do or where to go," he said.
Although he knew employment would give him the purpose he so desperately craved, Mr Herod spent months idle at home before eventually contacting not-for-profit employment and apprenticeships provider, VERTO, to help him find a path forward.
“VERTO quickly identified that improving my mental health was the priority, and that I needed emotional support so I could apply for jobs or attend job interviews,” he said.
“My mentor, Amelia, said to me: we can help with employment, but you also need to prioritise your heath and wellbeing.
"And that was a big thing for me - I felt like I was working on two important parts of my life at the same time: my mental health and my career,” Mr Herod said.
VERTO provided Mr Herod with support and guidance through the Disability Employment Services (DES) program, which is funded by the Department of Social Services.
While on the DES program, Mr Herod quickly established that he was interested in hairdressing, and with help from VERTO, landed a job at Nik’s Cutting Edge in Taree.
Mr Herod spent a year on the salon floor working as an assistant: washing hair, stocking shelves, ordering hair products, cleaning equipment and welcoming clients to the salon. It was the opportunity he needed to get his life back on track.
“I loved everything about the job – the clients, my supportive boss, my colleagues, the work – I just knew it was the right career for me,” Mr Herod said.
After 12 months working as a salon assistant, VERTO encouraged Mr Herod to sign up to an apprenticeship. He began a Certificate III in Hairdressing in February 2022.
“I’m now in the second year of my apprenticeship and I can honestly say it’s one of the best things I’ve done. I’m in a really good place and I’ve found my purpose,” Mr Herod said.
“I feel more comfortable within myself. I'm a lot happier with where I'm going and what I'm doing.”
VERTO Chief Executive Officer, Ron Maxwell, believes Mr Herod’s story is an inspirational one for all job seekers, and should encourage others to seek help when they need it.
“Mental health shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your goals and finding your dream job. At VERTO, help is always at hand,” Mr Maxwell said.
“Anxiety and depression can be debilitating, but Lewis’s journey highlights how employment can help you get back on track and find your purpose.”
And Mr Herod’s advice for anyone in a similar situation?
"Find those people, whether it be friends, family, co-workers, employment agencies, counsellors - anyone who you can talk to,” he said. "And never give up on trying to do what makes you happy."
For more information on how VERTO can assist with a range of tailored individual employment support, visit www.verto.org.au or phone 1300 4 VERTO (1300 487 386).
VERTO is a not-for-profit organisation delivering a range of apprenticeship, community support, employment and training services to assist individuals, employers and industries. We can be found in over 65 locations across New South Wales. For more information, visit www.verto.org.au.