YOU’LL NEVER WALK ALONE
WHEN Ross Hill - pictured with his wife Donna and their daughters Layla (left) and Georgie - and Tim Briggs, called for the local community to rally against the rising incidence of suicide they may never have dreamed of the show of support they would receive. Around 600 people of all ages turned out to show they care at Friday’s Puka Up Community Walk, impressing guest speaker and Puka Up CEO Wayne Schwass (inset).
I hope today is the beginning of a broader conversation as these simple conversations offer hope and connection - Wayne Schwass
MORE than 600 people exchanged their public holiday sleep-in last Friday to spend their morning raising awareness for suicide prevention.
Toddlers, teenagers, parents and grandparents alike gathered at the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre before 9am to participate in the Puka Up Wangaratta Community Walk.
The walk was created as a tool to spark conversations about suicide and mental health among all community members.
Many supporters wore shirts bearing the number ‘2866’, which was the amount of people who committed suicide in 2016.
However, data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week indicated that the number was unfortunately 3128 in 2017.
Based on the latest data, about nine people would have tragically ended their own lives by the end of the day of the march.
Although participants were of various ages, occupations and interests, they were united in their message – it is okay to ask for help and no one should ever feel alone.
Organisers Tim Briggs and Ross Hill, who contacted Puka Up chief executive officer and former AFL footballer Wayne Schwass to organise the event, were “humbled” by the level of support shown by community members.
Mr Hill said they hoped to make it an annual event as mental health and suicide prevention is an issue that “really resonated with everyone”.
“Going by the numbers, it was a really successful morning,” he said.
“We hoped there would be a cross-section of people so we were pleased by the diversity of the crowd.
“There were certainly conversations going during the walk and hopefully that can continue - if they do, it will normalise the topic and help people have the courage to reach out.”
It was announced that Wangaratta would be one of the regional cities where mental health seminars would be held as part of the Puka Up Bike Ride early next year.
Mr Schwass thanked those in the “amazing turnout” for giving up their time to participate in a crucial discussion.
“I hope today is the beginning of a broader conversation as these simple conversations offer hope and connection,” he said.
“We want to change the narrative - our mission is to stop people from thinking they need to end their lives.”
Lisa Baker said she attended because there had been too many suicides in the community and it was important to share support.
“It’s not just young or old people, it affects everyone,” she said.
Friend Tania Nunn agreed: “We want to show there are always people to be there, they’re not alone.”
Wangaratta High School graduates Milly Mathewson and Jasmine Olenczuk were among young people wanting to reach out to others in their age group.
“I just think it’s important to get around and show support for suicide prevention within the community,” Ms Mathewson said.
UNITED FOR A CAUSE: Ross Hill leads the walk across the Wangaratta pedestrian rail bridge followed by around 600 like-minded community members. Inset: Wayne Schwass spoke to the crowd about the importance of simple conversastions of hope and connection.
A SIMPLE MESSAGE: Milly Mathewson (right) and Jasmine Olenczuk wanted to let other young people know they are not alone.
WE CARE: Lisa Baker, Cheryl Hooke and Tania Nunn wanted to show their support and send a message of hope to others.