A university lecturer who famously “froze” on television has rallied behind soccer star Mitch Austin after he appeared to suffer a panic attack during a live interview.
Austin, a Melbourne Victory forward, stunned ABC News Breakfast sports presenter Georgie Tunny on Tuesday morning when he walked off the studio set mid-sentence.
He wouldn’t be the first, and most likely won’t be the last.
Benjamin Habib, an international relations lecturer at La Trobe University, was speaking about North Korea on ABC News Breakfast last year when he suffered what he described as “the freeze”.
Dr Habib recalled the experience in a blog post to break the stigma on the anxiety disorder, and sparked national debate.
He told The New Daily he believed the sports star did exactly the right thing by walking off.
“I think Mitch was absolutely correct. As soon as he realised he wasn’t up for it, he halted it. He absolutely did the right thing,” Dr Habib said.
“You’re under no obligations to people if you’re uncomfortable. It’s perfectly fine to remove yourself from that [situation].”
Dr Habib said the studio could be “a really claustrophobic environment”.
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“If you’re not used to that environment, it’s quite intimidating. I could see that was really getting to him, what he was doing with his hands, how his face looked. That really hit it for me, because that’s how I felt in the moment.
“I don’t think I could have handled it any other way under the circumstances … As soon as I realised it wasn’t happening, I pulled it.”
Dr Habib had attempted to continue the interview last year with hosts Michael Rowland and Virginia Trioli before eventually saying: “I can’t do this.”
He told The New Daily he felt “embarrassed”, but that the “overwhelming support” he received from coworkers, friends and strangers “absolutely helped”.
“My biggest fear the next day was wandering down the corridor [at work] and wondering what people would think.”
But he said the whole experience was “unquestionably” and “overwhelmingly” positive because it allowed him to confront his anxiety and open up debate.
Dr Habib said he believed the best way forward was “to talk about it”.
“That’s really the magic key that unlocks all other possibilities, to talk about it.”
How to handle a panic attack
Anthony Jorm, from the Centre for Mental Health at Melbourne University, said anyone could suffer a panic attack but that they were most common among those prone to anxiety.
“The best approach is to ride out the panic attack,” he told The New Daily.
“Although panic attacks can be terrifying, they do pass. A typical course would be for the panic to peak within 10 minutes and then subside.
“If you are with someone who is having a panic attack, the best help is to remain calm, invite the person to sit down, ask if there is anything they need, and reassure them that they are safe and the panic attack will pass.”
He said panic attacks were “an extreme level of anxiety” that leads to “distressing physical symptoms”.
“The person’s distress in response to the symptoms can lead to the panic spiralling up and feeling out of control.”
Dr Jorm said he did not believe there was enough support or awareness around panic attacks. He encouraged Australians to undergo Mental Health First Aid training.
Mitch Austin’s experience on ABC News Breakfast
Tunny had asked Austin how he expected the upcoming A-League season to play out after Melbourne Victory lost to Sydney FC in last year’s grand final.
Austin, 26, said it would be “pretty tough” before saying, “sorry, I just need to go”.
Tunny later explained he appeared to suffer a panic attack: “I think that he just blanked and then had a bit of a panic attack, but he’s okay.”
An ABC spokesperson told The New Daily Austin felt “unwell and needed to leave the studio”, but declined to comment further.
The New Daily has contacted Austin and Melbourne Victory for comment.
Readers seeking support should contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.