Ashleigh Nelson

Australian Hockey Player and Motivational Speaker

Ambassador

 RUOK? and the Kokoda Experience. 

Kokoda, it is a name that resonates and evokes a sense of pride and loss with so many Australians. Despite many not having family members involved in the Kokoda Trail campaign, it would be difficult to find someone who hasn’t contemplated what hardships faced by many young men from a range of countries in Papua New Guinea in 1942.

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Words can barely justify how much of a harrowing yet emotionally fulfilling experience Kokoda was for both Rachael and myself. To see just how many young lives were taken far too early from this world was distressing. All men on the trail no matter what ethnicity was a son, brother, husband and father to someone. Knowing so many wives were left to raise their children alone, knowing many daughters no longer had their father to walk them down the aisle and loving parents would be forever hoping for their sons return made that moment profoundly difficult comprehend.

It was at Bomana Cemetery in Port Moresby where many of the soldiers were buried that the significance of our charity walk was put into context for me personally.

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As I looked at the countless rows of headstones I realised that there were just as many young men and women in our country every year that have so much to offer but are lost to suicide, leaving their loved ones with the same feelings of unimaginable grief and loss experienced by families over the Kokoda campaign. At that moment I hoped our walk and the money raised would make a difference to someone and their family, even if it was just one.

Day to day living in today’s society has become somewhat of a battlefield. Pressure to make more money, be seen with the right people, to parent well, make ends meet, work to deadlines, have the right body image, be an A grade student, climb the work place ladder plus many more are all stressors which we all place on ourselves in our ever busy lifestyle.

Along side these external pressures, genetic predisposition, chemical imbalances and increase in drug use are all factors contributing to an increase in depression and suicide within Australia. Current statistics indicate that on average there are 6 PEOPLE dying every day from suicide equating to 2,600 individual lives lost per year. Although this is a staggering statistic, what’s equally alarming is the estimated 65,000 suicide attempts in the same year.

We opted to raise funds for the mental health group – RUOK? based on the simplicity of their campaign and the amazing people who have worked tirelessly for the organisation to expand it to a national level. There is no doubt that Australians typically have a bad habit of ‘beating around the bush’ and not being direct with each other, in both questioning and answering during a conversation. If I could donate a $1 to the RUOK? campaign, every time an Australian responds ‘yeah good mate’ when asked ‘how ya goin?’, we would never have to ask the government for more space in the budget again for better mental health care.

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RUOK? promotes the idea of being open and also allowing oneself to be vulnerable, which can be hard thing particularly for Australian men who account for up to 75% of the suicide rate. If we can reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and allow individuals to openly and comfortably state that are they are not mentally feeling 100%, it creates so many more opportunities for individuals to seek the help and support before hitting rock bottom.

It is safe to say mental illness is a historically taboo issue, but has now all affected us whether it be yourself, a relative, friend or someone in the public eye dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. Enough is enough and it is time to come together and deal with the mental illness epidemic that is becoming one of the biggest health issues in our country.

I realise what Rachael and I have just completed is a drop in the ocean but being Australian we all understand the power of water. Many drops of water can create a flood and that is what I hope for, a flood of financial support and people who care enough to take time away from their busy schedule to look each other in the eye and ask the hard question ARE YOU OKAY?

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If you are suffering from depression or having suicidal ideations please seek further assistance by contacting Lifeline on #13 11 14 . If you would like more information about RUOK? head to their website https://www.ruok.org.au