5/6/17

Ben Woods And The Ride For Our Lives

Regular readers of the Galabid blog will know all about Ben Woods' epic cycle around Australia in support of Ride for Jase. Starting on June 10 from Manly in Sydney, Ben will ride to the furthest points on the compass and then into the dusty heart of the Red Centre. Scheduled to complete the ride in six months, if successful Ben will break the world record for the longest journey by bicycle in a single country. This epic adventure is inspired by Ben's brother Jase. In 2015, over the course of six months, Ben saw his vibrant and adventurous brother crippled by depression. Later that same year Jase took his own life. The grief of that terrible time left Ben with an unwavering desire to help others who experience mental health illness. Ride for Jase has two primary aims. The first is increase awareness about mental health and the second is to raise $250,000 for the mental health charity, The Black Dog Institute. We spoke to Ben about the ride and the causes it supports:

Over the last 18 months you've been very involved with mental health education. Have you been surprised by what you have learned?

I think first and foremost the stats are just shocking. I knew that it was bad, but the reality is it's an epidemic we're not really tackling. Eight people a day die by suicide. It's the biggest killer of people between the ages of 15 and 44. More people die by suicide than on our nation's roads, some 3,500 every year.

Why does mental health not have a higher profile in our communities?

Depression is something that's very silent. People are reluctant to talk about it in the way they would a physical injury. There's maybe a sense of shame or weakness associated with mental health issues, particularly in older generations. Although we're getting better at acknowledging and normalising mental health illness, younger generations are still carrying the legacy of their parents' and grandparents' attitude to mental health. So people today have the issue that while they're told they should talk about how they're feeling, they haven't been given the skill sets to do so.

It's a huge issue. What are some of the things we can do as a society and individually to change things?

Personally, I don't see the answer being the Government stepping in or increasing the number of pyschologists. Those things will benefit, but only if people are willing and able to seek help. We need to lead by example. Parents, family members, friends; we all need to be comfortable showing our emotional side, to cry with each other and be vulnerable. I work in construction. It's a traditionally masculine environment, but the response I've had from co-workers and friends once they know what I'm doing is amazing. Mental health issues are so common, once people know they have someone to talk to that they can relate to it's incredibly powerful. I

m comfortable sharing my stories and showing my vulnerable side, I'm amazed how that inspires people from all walks of life to share their stories with me. Thereâ's clearly a huge need and desire for people to talk. We need to find a way to encourage them to so safely and confidently.

Do you think there is an inherent cultural issue with talking about and accepting mental health illness?

Absolutely. We desperately need a cultural change. Again, examples and role models will really help. The more people can talk about depression, the more accepted it becomes. If kids see their footy idols talking about mental health issues and its treatment they're likely to have a positive approach to any problems they may face in the future. The Black Dog Institute is passionate about mental health being viewed in exactly the same way we view physical health i.e. if we think we might have a mental health problem we go to our GP, exactly the same as if we had a physical ailment.

You're travelling around Australia, how important is it to get the mental health message into communities outside metropolitan centres.

There are lots of mental health issues in rural Australia. Without wanting to generalise, there's probably more of the sense that men, in particular, believe their family would rather see him die on top of his horse than get down from it. I grew up in the country and there was always this sense that adults didn't have problems. I couldn't wait to be an adult because it seemed such a carefree life! We're not expecting to change things overnight with the ride, but if we can spark a conversation it's a great start. We're selling lime green wristbands on the ride. Lime green was Jase's favourite colour and coincidently also represents mental health awareness. Just wearing one of those might be enough to get a discussion started that could change someone's life.

The suicide rates for teenagers are frightening. What can we do to educate kids about mental health?

Simply talking about it is an obvious one. I'm really looking forward to speaking at my old school in Sawtell during the ride. I'm not in a position to advise the kids, but I can talk about my experience and encourage them to reach out if they need help. I want them to see that what I am doing is a positive thing. It's also important for kids to grow up in an environment where resilience is encouraged. They should know that a wholly positive life isn't realistic and that adversity is normal and should be expected. We will all face difficulties in our lives, giving kids the skill sets to deal with sometimes hugely traumatic set-backs will stand them in good stead.

What kind of things can support positive mental health?

Good relationships are a predicator of happiness. Whether it's family, a lover or friends, being connected to a supportive network (big or small) is really important. Thinking about mental nutrition is also a great way to stay healthy. Much like how we think about what we put into our mouths, we should do the same with what we put into our brains. The Black Dog Institute talks about 'exercising your mood', it's a great concept that focuses on the mental health benefits of regular activity and exercise.

And finally, given the ride is so close, how are you feeling about the challenge?

I don't know everything! I'm relatively new to cycling. I'm definitely am not a bike nerd - I'm sure a cycle expert would say I need lots of extra bits and pieces in terms of bike maintenance etc! All my inspiration comes from my brother and to show him the country (Ben will take Jase's ashes with him on the ride). I've trained well and I'm in decent physical shape but I can't train for those long lonely stretches of road.  90% of completing the ride will be mental and I know I wo't give up - even when it's difficult. Most looking forward to: Starting! Riding into my hometown and getting on stage at my old school. Seeing Uluru underneath a star packed sky. Tail winds. Least looking forward to: Head winds!

And the final word.

If we can save the life of just one person, that person who could have been my brother that would be incredible.   Anyone needing direct support for issues raised in this article can call Lifeline on 13 11 14.  

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