On My Kitchen Rules, Melbourne footy friends Mark and Chris go into each challenge with good cheer and hearty laughs, sometimes at each other's expense. "We're both silly at times," says Mark Virgona, a security installations specialist, "but we enjoy the fun of living."
That fun, which began when Mark met Chris in 2001 after high school, almost came to a halt at the end of 2015. That's when Mark, with his marriage ending and work worries increasing, sought treatment for severe depression. "It was just a build up of pressure and things around you," says Mark, 32. "I was very flat and it all just got to me and then I started fully drinking a little bit."
Fortunately, he had a steady rock in Chris Jongebloed, 33. Mark says, "Chris was the one who said, 'What's up?' And then I realised I needed help."
Chris knew something was wrong when Mark told him he wasn't happy and was having bad days from which he could never bounce back. "Obviously you don't like to see your friends, especially your best mate, down like that," Chris says, "after you've seen him for so many years being bubbly, happy and excited. Your first instinct is to find out why and try and help him."
Mark also wanted to stay strong for his sons Luke, 6 and Fabian, 4, who may not have understood what dad was going through, but fed off of his low energy. "They feed off people they look up to, you know," Mark says, "and if I'm quiet and flat, they're probably going to sit there quietly. Depression has a snowball effect on people around you."
Once he says he hit "rock bottom," Mark sought out his GP for advice, which led to medication and a series of appointments with psychologists. All of the efforts got Mark on the road to recovery. "Always go to your GP first," Mark says now, "They start you on medication and give you a referral to a psychologist. But the most important part of getting through depression is talking about it and having support and friends around."
Chris says Mark can't fight his social nature, so he would invite him to play at his footy club, have him over the house for dinner, and talk on the phone. "Mark and I, in the last two years, have spent more time together probably than in the five years previous to that," Chris says.
While the pals can be seen on My Kitchen Rules, they want to help others away from the screen. "Mark has pushed us to sign up and be ambassadors for Beyond Blue," Chris says. "He's made a lot of changes with his life so he can focus on getting himself better and staying positive, and I think it's working."
To read more about Mark's journey with depression, pick up the latest issue of WHO on newsstands today.
'My Kitchen Rules' airs Sundays at 7 PM and Mondays through Wednesdays at 7.30 PM on Channel 7.