Triple M former co-hosts Tim Smith and Steve Bedwell had the Squirrel Grippers show in the ’90s. Photo: Mark Wilson
Former top-rating radio host Steve Bedwell has revealed he has bipolar depression that caused him to lose his job and attempt suicide.
Having now turned his life around, he shared his story on the Radio Today website to help others.
What gets mistaken for a rampant ego is, in fact, a mental illness.
“Let my experience be a lesson,” he writes. “Should things not feel right, seek help at the nearest opportunity.”
Serious side … Steve Bedwell battles depression.
In the late 1990s, Bedwell’s Triple M Melbourne breakfast show – which he co-hosted with Tim Smith – soared to the top of the FM ladder. To his listeners, he was quick-witted and hilarious. He was raking in the cash.
But to his colleagues – by his own admission – his behaviour was “erratic, demanding, intolerable and destructive”. People refused to work with him. Despite his success, Austereo did not renew his contract.
At his lowest point, in 2011, he tried to take his own life.
“I want this to be a warning to people,” Bedwell tells Fairfax Media. “A lot of mental illness goes undiagnosed and untreated. I didn’t realise I was ill for a long time and it caused a lot of damage.”
For him, this involved years of manic highs followed by crippling lows. His high-profile success brought no satisfaction. Friends and colleagues stopped speaking to him.
“With bipolar, you’re at your most creative when you’re on a high,” Bedwell explains. “Unfortunately, you’re also at your most demanding and difficult. You can’t understand why other people can’t keep up; why they won’t work at the same level as you.
“An incredible amount of frustration creeps in and therefore, aggression and unfair treatment of people. That’s particularly the case with underlings who aren’t getting paid as much or who don’t have as much experience – and you’re expecting them to perform at the same level, which is totally unrealistic.”
Tim Smith admits he struggled with his co-host’s volatile temperament.
“Mate, I was very, very f—ing angry,” he says. “Maybe I am still am a bit. But my memory of Steve is that he’s a very honourable man.”
Smith was walking his dog when contacted by Fairfax Media and hadn’t read the Radio Today article yet.
“I don’t have to,” he says. “I lived through it for years. I know that whatever Steve wrote would be very truthful and it would have taken a lot of courage to write.
“Simply coming out and discussing these problems goes a long way towards resolving them. It’s helps the person who is under pressure – and it also helps their partner, friends and family.
“Everyone can finally breathe a sigh of relief.”
In his time at Triple M, Bedwell was unaware he had depression. After all, he was high-functioning, funny and successful. When he bought a $ 150,000 car on a whim, people branded him a show-off. When he locked horns with management, they described him as combative.
“What gets mistaken for a rampant ego is, in fact, a mental illness,” he says.
Bedwell finally sought help a few years ago. He simply reached a point where he was so low, he knew he had to change.
Diagnosis, of course, was the first crucial step. But improvement did not occur in a perfectly linear fashion. Bedwell stresses that persistence and an open mind are vital.
“It might take three goes to find the right psychiatrist who just gets you,” he says. “In my case, I had a bit of trial and error with medication, too.”
He also had enormous benefit from electroshock therapy: a highly effective treatment tainted by the brutal and often involuntary way it was practiced in the past.
“It’s generally more confronting for the people around you than the person actually having it,” Bedwell says. “In the old days, before they started issuing muscle relaxants, the convulsions would break bones. Now it’s quite a civilised process.
“It wasn’t painful at all. It was remarkable in the way it turned around my depression in quite a quick period.”
Those who worked with the comedian at his peak used to wonder: how could someone with everything to live for not be grateful? Now, Bedwell is the first to acknowledge the good things in his life. His incredibly supportive and loving wife, most of all. Their new baby. And the chance to help others.
Bedwell is now the Australian ambassador for WISE Stand Up for Mental Health, a project that teaches stand-up comedy to people with mental illnesses. He has been mentoring 10 locals who will make their live comedy debut at Deakin Edge on October 25.
“Watching these people grow and develop and overcome the stigma of their illnesses is incredible,” he says. “Some of them have never spoken about their condition beyond a medical context. Now, they’re making comedy out it. You can actually see a physical change in them.”
He only wishes he’d got help sooner.
“I did a lot of damage to a lot of relationships,” he says. “It’s very difficult to go back and repair those. I don’t expect people to forgive me.
“I would have loved to have kept working in radio but my life has changed because of the way I behaved. That’s just something I have to live with.”
Radio Today co-founder Brad March, a former senior executive at Austereo, said: “Steve’s story is important and he deserves full credit for telling it.
“Radio is a fast-moving, creative industry that can burn people out and I know for a fact that depression and anxiety are not uncommon. But nor are they uncommon in any realm, which is why it’s so important we talk about them.”
In 2008, the industry was shocked by the suicide of Richard Marsland. Most had no idea the popular presenter was unwell.
“Radio can be a dog-eat-dog world,” Smith says. “The stress of being a performer and the pressure of ratings can be enough to make you crack.
“It’s not unique to radio, of course. There are people with depression in factories and they’re having a just as hard a time. Their families are struggling just as much, too. That’s why it’s great that Steve’s decided to talk about it. It can only help.”
Taking those first steps – speaking to a friend, consulting a doctor – is what Bedwell hopes others who are struggling will now do.
“There are people in this industry who are notoriously difficult to get along with,” he says. It’s not necessarily a personality thing. It could be something beyond that.”
For help or information, call Lifeline on 131 114 or visit beyondblue.org.au.