The ripple effect of suicide sends silent shockwaves through a community.
The grief is shattering.
Annette, Stuart, Jack and Henri Baker have staggered through the anguish of the hours, days, months and years since their daughter and sister Mary’s suicide.
They have railed against the people and the processes that failed a 15-year-old school girl with everything to live for.
They have wept and they have raged.
And they have rallied.
By god how they have rallied.
They have refused to be consumed by the darkness, by the dirty stigma of mental illness.
Six years ago they started a community event on the Border to shine a light into that darkness.
The Albury-Wodonga Winter Solstice for Survivors of Suicide and Friends is now in its sixth year.
It takes place on the longest night of the year in the civic centre, offering solace to those who have lost friends or loved ones to suicide or mental illness.
Set against the comforting backdrop of cosy fires, nourishing food and soothing music, the event features a line-up of speakers to educate and inspire.
Now communities across Australia are being urged to follow the Border’s lead and hold their own grassroots gatherings on June 21.
Advocacy group Australians For Mental Health is calling on communities to join its campaign to fix the country’s flailing mental health system.
“This June gather your friends, neighbours and coworkers and host an event to shine a light for those affected by suicide and mental illness,” the campaign states.
“Winter solstice marks the darkest night of the year before the slow climb back to summer.
‘The 4 million Australians affected by mental illness and their families have known a different kind of darkness, often facing a mental health system that is under funded, under resourced and failing us.”
Whether it’s through a curry night, potluck dinner, or tea and scones, AFMH is asking caring citizens to connect with their community and support the move to transform the mental health system – and save lives.
Inspired by the bravery of the Bakers, who have since been invited onto the AFMH board, the aim is to create a groundswell of support for radical changes to the way mental health services are delivered.
Fellow AFMH board member Lisa Sweeney said it was inspiring to see the work the Bakers had done to rally a community to this cause.
“It has been remarkable to witness their journey to connect the community and raise awareness of suicide and mental illness,” Ms Sweeney said.
“An event such as the winter solstice speaks to the heart of the ripple effect felt by suicide.”
Ms Sweeney recently spoke at the annual forum for the National Register of Mental Health Consumer & Carer Representatives alongside a line-up of speakers that included federal health minister Greg Hunt.
She said there was some “wariness” about AFMH as a new organisation on the scene.
“Mental health is a challenging space to operate in as there is a lot of fragmentation with many voices crying out to be heard – and to sustain funding,” Ms Sweeney explained.
“I explained our role is to support and elevate those voices as part of a rolling political campaign to cement mental health as an issue on the political agenda.”
- The 2018 winter solstice event will be at Albury’s QEII Square on June 21 from 5.30pm. This year’s line-up of speakers includes poet Les Murray, cancer campaigner Samuel Johnson, investigative journalist Tim Elliott and former NRL great Ian Roberts.