Opening up to talk about suicide

By Myles Peterson

Suicide was the difficult topic Wayne Schwass and dozens of cyclists brought to Shepparton yesterday in the hope of starting a conversation across country Victoria.

This year’s Puka Up grand tour will cover 1800km in 10 days, seeking to raise awareness about suicide and mental illness.

The brainchild of Mr Schwass, the former AFL footballer is passionate about elevating the issue and getting people to open up and talk.

‘‘We lose eight people on average a day. Six of those are men. It affects every town, everyone right across the country, including Shepparton and this region,’’ he said.

‘‘I believe in the importance and value of creating these conversations and, then importantly, bringing people into those discussions to allow them to begin to talk about things when they might be having challenges.’’

Joined by other athletes, including former AFL players Scott Cummings and Ryan O’Keefe, netball champion Shae Brown and Australian cricketer Ryan Gibson, the tour has criss-crossed the state.

Yesterday’s ride through the hilly terrain east of Shepparton was reportedly hard going.

But, along the way, Mr Schwass said the conversation had started, helped by a truck anyone was welcome to approach.

‘‘We met the father of a boy ... in Albury this morning. Thirteen days ago, that father said goodbye to his son because of suicide,’’ he said.

‘‘(The father) walked past the truck and stopped ... there were a lot of tears, a lot of hugging and it really brought us back on mission again as to why we do this. That man will not have his son. But, before he left, he said now I’m going to go and try save somebody else’s life.’’

Suicide is the biggest killer of young and middle-aged men aged 16 to 44.

‘‘There’s a lot of young boys and middle-aged men who are going through really difficult times, as well as women, but the way males approach these things is very different to the way women do,’’ Mr Schwass said.

‘‘And once again, we’re trying to show through what we’re creating, through the conversation we’re starting, it’s perfectly normal to ask for help and accept help and do whatever you need to do.’’

If you need support, phone Lifeline on 131114, or visit