*Content warning*: mentions suicide, depression and anxiety. Support contacts are listed below if you need to speak to someone.
In March of 2015, Alex Wood lost his father to suicide. Ever since that day, Alex has ridden his bike in an annual fundraising event to raise money - and awareness - of mental health and the work that the Black Dog Institute does in helping people struggling with depression.
On 2 March 2019, Alex once again commenced a six-day, 840-kilometre cycle from Melbourne to Canberra to help raise much-needed funds for the Institute on something that touches so many people in the broader community.
Alex, thank you for speaking to us. Firstly, can you tell us why you chose a charity bike ride as a way to raise money for the Black Dog Institute?
It is my pleasure and thanks for giving me the opportunity. In the months that followed the loss of my father I knew that I needed to do something to help others and began researching what existed that I could be part of. I was attracted to the Zoo2Zoo charity as they raised funds for the Black Dog Institute. The Institute is dedicated to the understanding, prevention and treatment of mental illness and seeks to enable mentally healthier lives through innovations in science, medicine, education, public policy and knowledge translation; I knew that I wanted my efforts and energy to go towards an organisation with such dedication and purpose. I was also attracted to the charity cycle because I knew it wasn't going to be easy and that it was going to take time and training to be able to accomplish it and it gave me something positive to focus on.
When you're not on the bike riding the countryside, what do you do here at ANU?
I am currently working as the Manager of the Academic Standards and Quality Office (ASQO). ASQO provides advice, direction and compliance implementation for the Higher Education Support Act 2003 (HESA), the Education Services for Overseas Students Act (ESOS) and ANU Policy, Procedures and Rules. In my role I oversee the operations of two very distinct teams; one is focused on compliance functions and the administration of student appeals, academic misconduct and discipline matters and the other is responsible government reporting and managing the University's curriculum accreditation.
We have to ask given you love wide open spaces, what space on the ANU campus would be your favourite go-to to hang out and relax? And why?
I would have to say that my favourite space on campus is the walking track that runs up along Sullivan's Creek. On occasion I will, depending on how energetic I am feeling, go for a run or walk over my lunch break. I find this corridor of the University's particularly charming and tranquil.
This year you'll be riding from Melbourne to Canberra. What is the target amount that you'd like to raise and how much will you have raised in the four years you've been doing this ride?
This year the fundraising goal is $4000. I have been doing this ride since 2016 with my friend Enzo, who also lost his father to suicide and if we can get our goal this year we will have contributed over $20,000 since 2016. Of course, we will be grateful for whatever the amount we end up with as it all counts.
Is there anything different you'll be doing in this year's ride?
I think the key difference in this year's ride is our training and preparation. One of the things that I personally struggle with during these rides is cramping and so conditioning is extremely important. This year we have undertaken a more intensive and varied training routine and I feel that Enzo and I are the most prepared that we have been. The biggest element and the one that makes the difference on a ride like this is the power of the mind and I am confident that both of us are feeling prepared and have a strong conviction for the cause as a motivator.
840 kilometres is a long way to ride to ponder about things in your life. What do you think about during the ride, to keep yourself focused and energised to complete it?
Indeed 840kms is a long way, but in relative terms it is not far enough. Whilst on the road I think about the reasons why I do this ride - I ride because I want to help to contribute and make a difference for other people. I reflect and fondly remember my wonderful father and these memories help provide a very special kind of energy and motivation. I also think about my kids, their future and the world that I want them to live in.
Depression, anxiety and suicide is a major issue in our society and affects everyone. Given your own personal story, what advice do you have for those struggling with their mental health?
These are major issues that affect many in our society and there is still much work to be done. I think through organisations like the Black Dog Institute and with the help and support of government there is opportunity to educate about mental health from an earlier age and this may make it easier to talk about and seek help for.
I think my advice can apply to those who are struggling with their mental health but is also applicable to those who are not: look after yourself in life as you would your children or those you love and care for most dearly. We often give to everyone else and sometimes we can forget about ourselves, but we need to prioritise us. Talking honestly to someone can really make a big difference and there are many professional and medical services available. Asking for help can be the first and a very powerful step forward. I think it is also a good idea and important to have your own mental health plan in place and ready for when things in life become a bit more difficult or unexpected.
So often, the focus on mental health is around those who are struggling. Can you give us some insight into how your own personal story has affected you, as someone that a loved one has left behind?
I have to say that for me it hasn't been easy, the loss of my father greatly impacted me and had a profound effect on my family. The journey for me is ongoing and I don't think that it is something that we ever fully recover from. That said, I credit where I am today to the help that I have received from professional services and to the wonderful network of family, friends and work colleagues that I have had around me since 2015. I am also very grateful to Andrew McKay and the Zoo2Zoo support crew who volunteer their time to bring us this opportunity to do something positive for the cause.
Where can people go for more information on the Black Dog Institute, for your fundraiser and to get help if they need it?
To donate and for information on our fundraiser and please visit: https://zoo2zoo2019.everydayhero.com/au/alex-enzo-zoo2zoo-2019
If you are in need of help there is a list of services available on their Get Help Now section of the Black Dog Institute's website and services include:
· Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14
· Lifeline New Zealand - 0800 543 354
· Kids Helpline - 1800 55 1800
· MensLine Australia - 1300 78 99 78
· Suicide Call Back Service - 1300 659 467
· Beyond Blue - 1300 22 4636
· Open Arms - Veterans & Families Counselling - 1800 011 046
Information on the ANU Counselling services can be found at: http://www.anu.edu.au/students/health-safety-wellbeing/counselling/anu-counselling-centre