HUNDREDS of people touched by depression and suicide have helped shine a light during the darkest night of the year at a moving service in Albury.
While last night’s winter solstice event at QEII Square explored painful topics — with many attendees affected by suicide in some way — organisers say the event is helping to break down the stigma and silence surrounding suicide and mental health.
The event is symbolically held on the longest night of the year, which spokesman Stuart Baker said was for good reason.
“After the longest night, the days get brighter,” he said.
“It’s about hope.”
Youth mental health advocate Professor Patrick McGorry said he was inspired by the way the Border community was breaking down the taboos of suicide.
“Society forbids suicide and people think by sweeping it under the carpet that it’s somehow going to go away,” he said.
“I also think people don’t know what to say.
“If someone dies in an accident you know how to express sympathy but with suicide there’s an awkwardness and I think it’s been tied up as being an issue of shame.
“Issues like domestic violence and child abuse have those characteristics but we’ve found a way to open those up to scrutiny and awareness, and we’re doing the same thing with suicide.”
Gayle Dawes said her family had a history of mental health problems.
After the death of a work colleague in April last year, Ms Dawes decided to do something to help and ran a half marathon in Melbourne, which raised money for headspace.
“I have a daughter who suffers from depression and when I did the fund-raiser it prompted her to come out about it and brought us together,” she said.
“It made it a real team effort and turned it into a big positive.
“We came together and it got us talking about her situation and it has made our whole family talk about it more openly.”
Ms Dawes said it could be a tough topic as people often felt shame or felt they would be judged.
“I think an event like this makes people more open-minded towards depression,” she said.
TV presenter and beyondblue ambassador Brad McEwan — who lost his father and brother to suicide — spoke at the event, which also featured music, dancing and fires for warmth.
Professor McGorry said while those working in mental health were doing their best to keep up with demand, there was very little government support for sufferers.
“Part of the solution is to invest in very good access to stigma-free mental health care for people who are struggling so they don’t have to think twice about reaching out for help,” he said.
“The state of our mental health service is appalling in many respects.
“There’s a huge mismatch between awareness and opening up, and the availability of mental health services.
“We need a major rethink on investment.”