Walking to save lives
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.
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.