Walk­ing to save lives

The Weekly Advertiser Horsham - - News - BY SARAH SCULLY

Los­ing two neph­ews to sui­cide in the past decade has in­spired Stawell’s Justin Ch­ester to help pre­vent others from be­com­ing another fright­en­ing statis­tic.

Sui­cide is the lead­ing cause of death for Aus­tralians aged be­tween 15 and 44, with men four times more likely to die by sui­cide than women.

For Mr Ch­ester, the sta­tis­tics are far too high.

He has set him­self a chal­lenge, to walk from Hor­sham to Nara­coorte next month to raise money for and aware­ness of be­yond­blue, the na­tional de­pres­sion ini­tia­tive.

Mr Ch­ester, 39, said the 150-kilo­me­tre trek from Oc­to­ber 1 to 4 would be tough, but he was will­ing to step out­side his com­fort zone to spark con­ver­sa­tions about such an im­por­tant is­sue.

“If I can save just one life from do­ing this, it’s worth it,” he said.

Mr Ch­ester’s trek is in mem­ory of two promis­ing young men whose lives were cut trag­i­cally short.

“My sis­ter’s son Josh Fin­lay died aged 21 in 2008 and my wife’s sis­ter’s son Ben Jol­ley died in 2017, when he was 22,” he said.

“Af­ter Ben’s death last year we had a Benny J ben­e­fit at a Mt Gam­bier night club where he used to DJ.

“It got me think­ing about what I could do to raise aware­ness of men­tal health and sui­cide.

“I thought, I walk ev­ery­where, so why don’t I do a walk?”

“Ben was born in Hor­sham and died while liv­ing in Nara­coorte, so that’s why I chose those lo­ca­tions.”

Al­though he has never trekked that far be­fore, Mr Ch­ester walks the six-kilo­me­tre round trip from home to work at Frew­stal abat­toir ev­ery day, ‘rain, hail or shine’.

He also re­cently com­pleted a 42-kilo­me­tre walk near Beach­port, South Aus­tralia, to see how his body would ‘hold up’.

Mr Ch­ester is col­lect­ing do­na­tions for be­yond­blue and has do­na­tion tins out in Stawell, Bal­larat, Hor­sham, Na­timuk, Nara­coorte and Mt Gam­bier.

He is also col­lect­ing items for an auc­tion, which will be part of an even­ing cel­e­bra­tion at Nara­coorte’s Kin­craig Ho­tel on Oc­to­ber 5, the night af­ter Mr Ch­ester com­pletes his walk.

The event will also in­clude guest speak­ers, who will talk about men­tal health and sui­cide in the com­mu­nity.

Dif­fi­cult top­ics

Mr Ch­ester said he un­der­stood sui­cide, men­tal ill­ness, de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety could be dif­fi­cult top­ics for peo­ple to dis­cuss, par­tic­u­larly if they had first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ac­cord­ing to be­yond­blue, three mil­lion Aus­tralians are liv­ing with anx­i­ety or de­pres­sion and we can all play a role in pre­vent­ing sui­cide by look­ing out for pos­si­ble warn­ing signs, reach­ing out and talk­ing about it.

“Ev­ery­one has dif­fer­ent men­tal health is­sues, from your typ­i­cal farmer who has faced tough times for years and com­mits sui­cide be­cause it has all got­ten too hard, to the young per­son who comes from a bad home life or has been bul­lied at school,” Mr Ch­ester said.

“Some peo­ple don’t have a choice with men­tal ill­ness.

“In Ben’s case, we didn’t see any signs un­til he was old enough to be a pro­fes­sional go­ing to work. He was seek­ing help. But in Josh’s case, there were no signs.

“Josh was a foot­baller and well known in the com­mu­nity. On his way home from train­ing in Bendigo one night he sent a text mes­sage to his fam­ily and friends say­ing, ‘I love you’ and that was the last they heard from him.

“That was a bit harder, be­cause we don’t re­ally know why.

“My wife’s side of the fam­ily is very open and will­ing to talk about what hap­pened to Ben, but my side of the fam­ily – Josh was from Charl­ton – is a bit more re­luc­tant to talk about it.

“I find that a bit dif­fi­cult, be­cause I think talk­ing about it is the best way to help others, but I can un­der­stand at the same time. Ev­ery­one deals with loss dif­fer­ently.”

Mr Ch­ester said he and his wife Lindy had made a com­mit­ment to do their part to raise men­tal health aware­ness and en­cour­age peo­ple ex­pe­ri­enc­ing tough times to speak up.

“For me, it’s about try­ing to do some­thing in a sit­u­a­tion where we of­ten feel so help­less,” he said.

“I’m try­ing to take the pos­i­tives out of our fam­ily’s tragedy to help others. I want peo­ple to talk about it more, to look out for their mates and to use ser­vices like be­yond­blue and Life­line be­fore it’s too late.

“We need to look out for our fam­i­lies and our mates.

“Some peo­ple just don’t re­alise what is go­ing on out there un­til they are con­fronted with it.

“Men­tal health is­sues can tar­get any­one and talk­ing about it is key to hav­ing the right tools for some­one to deal with it.

“Talk­ing and get­ting help has proven to save lives. There is sup­port out there.”

Peo­ple can visit https://www.face book.com/justin­swalk­for­men­tal­health for more in­for­ma­tion or to in­quire about mak­ing a do­na­tion.

• Peo­ple can also visit www.be­yond blue.org.au or www.life­life.org.au for in­for­ma­tion and sup­port about anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion and sui­cide. Peo­ple in need of cri­sis sup­port and sui­cide pre­ven­tion ser­vices can call Life­line’s 24-hour hot­line on 13 11 14. If a life is in dan­ger, peo­ple should call po­lice on triple zero.

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