Wangaratta Chronicle - - Front Page - PHOTO: Leah An­der­son-Byrne

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.

PHO­TOS: Leah An­der­son-Byrne

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.

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