STAWELL resident Justin Chester has decided to do something about the growing mental health concerns in regional communities following a family tragedy.
Mr Chester lost two nephews – Josh Finlay and Ben Jolley – to suicide during the last decade.
Starting Monday, Mr Chester will walk from Horsham to Naracoorte to raise funds for beyondblue, and raise awareness of mental health issues.
“Josh was from Charlton and Ben was originally from Horsham but moved to Naracoorte. Just over a year ago we did a benefit in the memory of Ben where we raised funds,” he said.
“I started thinking about other ways I could raise awareness in the community and what things I could do to reduce the suicide numbers. I like to walk and thought that it would be a good way to involve the community.”
So far Mr Chester has raised $3000 from local clubs, groups, schools and individuals. He also has charity tins at businesses across both Victoria and South Australia.
Mr Chester will start his walk at 7am on Monday from the Horsham Town Hall, walking along the Wimmera Highway.
“I’m hoping to finish it by Wednesday; it’s a 150 kilometre walk so I’ll be aiming for 50 kilometres a day. I’ll be stopping in smaller communities like Natimuk, Edenhope and Apsley,” he said.
“We’ll have a support crew at those towns shaking tins while I walk. On Friday from 6pm at the Kincraig Hotel at Naracoorte, we’re holding an auction night, and a night of reflection for Josh and Ben’s lives. All money raised on that night will also be donated to beyondblue.”
He said mental health was a growing concern in regional communities.
“Strengthening support tools and getting smaller communities more focused on these issues is one way we can combat this. Maybe by having more places where people can tap into,” he said.
“This is all about emphasising to people who are experiencing mental health issues that there is help out and that they shouldn’t be ashamed or embarrassed by it.
“The main thing is to get people talking. There needs to be more done in regional communities to help people reach out and help them get out of that dark place.”
At this stage, the walk will be a one off. However, Mr Chester said he wouldn’t pass up the chance to do it again if all goes well.
“I’m not ruling out that it could become an annual thing. Originally I thought I’d just do the walk and chuck a couple of tins out, but it has grown bigger than I could have ever thought. The community response has been fantastic locally,” he said.
“It’s quite humbling to know that so many people do care that there are people out there who are really struggling.
“We always find out when it’s too late and it just becomes another statistic which are just far too high. That’s what I want to help reduce. Out of all this, if I have saved just one life then I have made a difference.”
If this story has brought up any issues for you, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.