By Bonny Burrows
What started as a small walk to unite those touched by mental illness and suicide has grown into a community campaign for increased support services in the area.
The inaugural Melbourne HopeWalk, held in Pakenham on Sunday 10 September, was planned as a low-key community event for an estimated 100 people.
Instead, in a response that blew its organisers away, 600 local residents clad in yellow and black turned out to the Lakeside Lake to show their support for those touched by or lost to suicide and mental illness.
One organiser, Cardinia Shire councillor Carol Ryan, said the turn-out was “mind-blowing”.
“It started as a personal thing between (fellow organiser) Bobo (Davis) and I, and now it’s too big,” Cr Ryan said.
Cr Ryan and Ms Davis have both experienced first-hand the devastation suicide and mental illness brings.
Ms Davis’s world was turned upside down in April 2016 when her 22-year-old son Aaron killed himself after a seven-year battle with ice addiction.
Cr Ryan almost lost a family member to the drug, but fortunately was able to find them help.
The walk was created to make sure nobody felt alone – that there were people out there to talk to.
Cr Ryan said feedback was that this was certainly achieved.
“One lady lost her husband two months ago and commented that she now understands a bit more,” she said.
“Other feedback was that people were relieved they could finally talk about it, that thank God something was being done.”
Now the mothers are working fearlessly to shine a light on the often taboo subjects to attract the support services they say are desperately needed to the shire.
Their first initiative was the 1.5km walk.
Next on the agenda are forums and the creation of community support groups, followed by government lobbying for the addition of local psychiatrists and mental illness specialists.
Cr Ryan said the walk’s turn-out signalled a massive community desire for better support services.
“That amount of support and great success on the day shows the community wants this,” Cr Ryan said.
“We do have services in place but they’re not going to be enough for our growth.”
Cr Ryan said all it took to start the process towards change was one game person, like Ms Davis, to share her story.
“We need to take responsibility and start fighting for what we believe in. Then we’ll get progress,” Cr Ryan said.
“We’re talking about people’s lives, we’re talking about saving lives and it’s a conversation that I’m going to continue.”
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