Pivotal year ahead for Upper Hunter-based Where There's A Will Foundation

INSPIRATIONAL: Where There’s A Will Foundation co-founders Hilton and Pauline Carrigan at the Merriwa Australia Day ceremony on Thursday.
INSPIRATIONAL: Where There’s A Will Foundation co-founders Hilton and Pauline Carrigan at the Merriwa Australia Day ceremony on Thursday.

THIS year appears set to be a pivotal one for the Where There’s A Will Foundation (WTAW), according to co-founder Pauline Carrigan.

While 2016 saw the not-for-profit charity address significant mental health issues and gain national exposure, the next 12 months promises an even bigger presence, with some exciting announcements on the horizon.

And, it all kicks off on February 15 for the Upper Hunter-based organisation.

Leading mental health expert Geoffrey Ahern will use the WTAW’s Facebook, live, to deliver a beginner’s guide to mental health first aid.

“The presentation, from 7.30pm, will provide advice on how to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, give an overview of some of the treatments available, offer guidance on how to help and support someone experiencing mental health problems and identify some of the causes and risk factors for mental illness,” Ms Carrigan said.

“Importantly, there’ll also be advice on what you can do if you find yourself in a crisis situation where someone is demonstrating suicidal behaviour, panic attacks or other symptoms of mental illness.

“We believe this is the first time mental health first aid education has been delivered in this manner and hope to have a massive audience right around Australia.

“Then, on February 25 and 26, Mr Ahern will be in Muswellbrook to train 30 men who engage with boys in all forms of sport – this is where the conversation can happen, too.

“From February 23 to 26, WTAW is taking 18 local student leaders and two principals to Adelaide for the 5th Annual Positive Education Conference.

“With the assistance and expertise of Lindy Hunt and the recent announcement of the generous donation by Godolfin Darley’s stud facilities to be made available to WTAW for our own use, our vision is to host the very first NSW Student Leader Conference within the next two years.

“Once again, Helen Whale from St Joseph’s Merriwa is organising a principals’ conference for the heads of the Upper Hunter schools this term.

“This meeting will help all principals discuss everything that is unfolding and develop strategies of their own moving forward.

“We’ll also fund about three WTAW members and 17 teachers to attend a two-day National Positive Education Conference in Sydney on March 17 and 18.

“This will introduce teachers to cutting edge mental fitness strategies and teaching methods that they can adapt to their classes, schools and communities.

“Following the recent ABC 7-30 report, we’ve been approached by no less than a dozen other communities Australia-wide who wish to share our vision and template.

“These towns, like us, are ready to adopt the attitude that no plan from the government is coming anytime soon.

“This has instigated a possibility that we will be hosting some form of information session late 2017 to share our journey with other communities.

“The BATYR program is returning, too.

“We are in discussions with BATYR about parent evening sessions to be held across the Upper Hunter.

“Muswellbrook High will also conduct an Appreciative Summit later in the year involving all schools, UHWTAW PESA (Positive Education Schools Association), Professor Toni Noble and the Upper Hunter community.

“This is huge.

“Principal Elizabeth Bate has taken a lot on here and should be heartily congratulated by this community.

“The summit will look at what we do well, what our problems are and plans and solutions for all schools moving forward with mental fitness as the core concern.”

Mrs Carrigan, who was the local Australia Day Ambassador at Merriwa on Thursday, said WTAW was looking at a venture called HALT as well.

“If funds permit, we’re hoping to run this across all communities late this year,” she explained.

“HALT stands for ‘Hope Assistance Local Tradies’. 

“Tradies form the highest risk category for depression and suicide in Australia, particularly those in the age group between 15 and 44.

“The local community invites bosses, tradies and apprentices alike to attend a Save your Bacon brekky, where the presenters talk about their real life struggles, the tough stuff and how they found the courage and strength to get help.

“The tradies will, hopefully, leave with valuable information and once again a toolkit of resources that they can stuff under the seat of the ute or in their toobox to be referred to if needed. 

“They’ll also leave with a sense that they are not alone.”

Mrs Carrigan said WTAW was founded, in March last year, with a vision to prevent mental illness.

“Our family have paid a huge price for the goal that motivates us into action,” she admitted.

“But, this illness can creep into your life anytime, any family, any gender, race, age or socio economic background.

“Depression silently, slowly infiltrates lives, maybe a bad mood or sadness to begin with. An undetectable weight at first and if unrecognised, undetected, hidden through shame or embarrassment, it can take hold.

“We need to raise awareness to the alarming statistics in our communities and to support all our local schools on a journey to investigate and implement some form of mental fitness program within their facilities.

“2016 saw us take a big step towards that goal.”