The instant questioning began and the unresolved questions continued. I continually asked myself why and the whys have never ceased.
Meeting people who asked what happened to my Dad or how he died I found difficult. I wasn’t embarrassed but suicide was not something people talked about and I didn’t have an answer to why it happened.
Hughie Browning in Year 7
It was during Year 10 it all hit me. The feelings of always battling a season of uncontrollable emotions, of discovering every day felt a little darker than the day before and an inability to ever feel happy the way other boys do exponentially grew until it overwhelmed me. After battling for months on end I came to a realization; after all the years of questioning why my Dad didn’t speak up, why he didn’t look to us for help, I found myself in the same boat.
The stigma around mental health and suicide, especially within farming communities, is killing people. In fact, 3027 people in 2015. That day I realised I was a part of the stigma and it could stay with me forever unless I did something.
I had heard from some farming families about an organisation called The Ripple Effect and then looked into what they were doing for Mental Health in rural areas. What appealed to me was the connection this foundation had with reputable organisations, like the Black Dog Institute, but its clear focus is on the rural community and ideas that resonate with people on the land.
My best mate and I had had numerous conversations over the past year about how we wanted to do something to raise awareness about suicide and help break down the stigma but we weren’t exactly sure what two 17 year old boys could do. So in December of last year my mate and I decided to hold a fundraiser, for The Ripple Effect Foundation, who raise awareness for mental health and suicide in the farming community.
The Ripple Effect is designed to investigate what works to reduce the stigma and perceived-stigma among males from the farming community aged 30-64, who have been bereaved through suicide, have attempted suicide, cared for someone who attempted suicide, have had thoughts themselves or been touched by the impact of suicide in some other way.
We contacted companies and friends who donated vouchers and prizes. On the night we had 110 people who had travelled from around the state and mates from schools everywhere. I was given the opportunity to speak and encourage all the people present about what they could do to break down the stigma. We raised over $7,000 on the night. Whilst the money raised was important, it was the discussion stimulated amongst mates, families and conversations that developed back in schools that can make the greatest impact.
Early in 2017, the Deputy Headmaster heard that I had organised a fundraiser during the Christmas holidays and asked if I could address the school. Planning for this speech was initially overwhelming, as it was the first time that I had told many of my peers, teachers and other students about my experience with suicide. Speaking to over 2,000 students and staff encouraged me that this was an issue and foundation that many people could relate to or wished to support. I was amazed at how many people spoke to me afterwards about how they were impacted by the speech.
After this event the prefects of my year spoke about how they would like to do more to support The Ripple Effect. It was announced to the Year 12 group that we would like to focus our Formal on raising funds for The Ripple Effect. Year 11 also decided that they would like to use their formal to show support. Over the two events, more than $1,000 was raised for the charity. Throughout the year, the Year 12 Wednesday BBQ has also raised funds through the sale of donuts, with 50% of each sale going towards The Ripple Effect.
It has been humbling to see that it is not only my close friends or those from rural areas that wish to support The Ripple Effect but the whole school has demonstrated their support, both financially and through gaining further education and breaking down the stereotypes about men and mental health.
I now want to take opportunities to keep raising awareness and fundraising so no other kid ever has to hear the news that they’ve lost a Dad, brother, friend or mate to suicide.
Building a culture where young men, from both rural and city communities, can discuss their fears, feelings and future worries is what I would like to work towards. When mates know they have mates who they can be authentic with and not be afraid of discussions of mental health and suicide, then ‘the ripple effect’ will have been effective. It is a ripple effect as it begins with one person, but if each person impacts at least one other then the message will spread and rural communities will change.
The Ripple Effect therippleeffect.com.au
Lifeline 13 11 14