Black Dog Ride to take mental health message to dairy communities

VITAL: Black Dog Ride Victorian co-ordinator Ric Raftis has his cow suit on and is ready to spread awareness of depression and suicide prevention. Picture: BRIAN BOYTON

VITAL: Black Dog Ride Victorian co-ordinator Ric Raftis has his cow suit on and is ready to spread awareness of depression and suicide prevention. Picture: BRIAN BOYTON

ABOUT 50 motorcycle riders are gearing up to ride around Victoria and shine a light on mental health issues, particularly in communities affected by the dairy industry crisis.

This year the Victorian Black Dog Ride has been christened the Milk Run, as many of the riders will don cow onesies as they visit dairy regions to encourage those struggling to reach out and seek help.

“A lot of people are doing it really, really tough,” Victorian co-ordinator Ric Raftis said.

He said no one was immune to mental health problems, but people were at a greater risk when they were experiencing financial pressures.

Mr Raftis said the turmoil in the industry affected not only the dairy farmers themselves but also the broader communities that relied on the industry to thrive.

While the event is also a fundraising drive, it is the awareness it brings to mental health issues that Mr Raftis considers to be most important.

“We want to create the conversation around mental health and suicide prevention – that’s our number one objective, always,” he said.

Suicide rates rise with geographical remoteness and men are particularly at risk, with suicide rates amongst men in regional communities twice as high as metropolitan areas.

“Men in particular do not ask for help, and they need to realise it’s not unmanly to ask for help,” Mr Raftis said.

The riders will leave from Bendigo on October 23, heading to Swan Hill, Halls Gap, Warrnambool, Frankston, Bairnsdale, Wodonga and Shepparton.

Funds raised during the Victorian ride this year will go towards Mental Health First Aid’s Teen Program training in secondary schools and Lifeline.

Lifeline Central Victoria and Mallee chief executive officer Leo Schultz said in previous years, this money had been used to support existing services in the region, namely the 13 11 14 phone counselling service and community training.

He said the funds were “critical” in allowing the charity to provide its life-saving service, having received 17,000 calls in this region in the 2015-16 financial year.

A community breakfast will be held at the Dai Gum San Precinct on Sunday, October 23 between 7am and 9am, to see the riders off.

Donations can be made at the Black Dog Ride website.

If you need immediate assistance with a mental health issue, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

For further information, contact beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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