Mental health fundraiser ignites conversation

ALL GOOD BRO: High school student Harmony Kennett along with The Shaka Project are working to help raise mental health awareness. Picture: MELANIE RILEY.

Melanie Riley

THE Shaka Project and local high school student Harmony Kennett have teamed up to try and tackle the stigma of mental health.

Ms Kennett became a brand ambassador for The Shaka Project at the beginning of 2023, to help spread the brand’s message, being that mental health awareness is close to her heart.

“I know so many people that have suffered from suicide loss. I have, everyone I know has,” she said.

“As somebody who has suffered from mental health and the consequences of suicide loss, mental health to me is about embracing every emotion with tenderness, offering ourselves the time to heal, from past and present experiences and extending that same kindness to others walking similar paths.

“Mental health is a journey of raw authenticity, where every tear shed is a testament to our own mental strength.”

She was excited to be able to bring Mr Weir and The Shaka Project to Mount Gambier/Berrin again, and said their message was an important one to share.

“Hopefully we get some more people involved considering it is such a close-to-the-heart topic with so many people,” Ms Kennett said.

“I know a lot of people are suffering from mental health and suicidal ideations, and don’t speak up about it to their families and friends.

“I’m hoping that by the information that we provide in the PowerPoint presentation that they can have more of an idea of who to go to, and that there are places to go and websites to look at.

“I’ve been in pretty low times myself, and so have a lot of people I know. I just want to be someone that can be there, and help.”

Founder of The Shaka Project Sean Weir began the initiative in 2019 to generate a more normalised conversation around mental health.

Struggling with his own mental health, and seeing his close friends struggle too, he wanted to create a space for men to be able to open up.

“It first started off as an initiative for men’s mental health, and to get more of my mates talking about it, and it’s now grown into a much bigger thing,” he said.

“We’re really able to target all of mental health, and get to as many people and as many places as we possibly can when it comes to this conversation.

“So that’s a big motivation for me, is to get more people to talk about it and normalise the conversation around that and around suicidal awareness.”

3,000 lives are lost to suicide each year in Australia with around 75 per cent being men, and Mr Weir is working hard to reduce these numbers and raise awareness.

“That whole stigma that men have to be tough and durable – that’s a big thing that’s harming a lot of men and young boys as well,” Mr Weir said.

“The idea that we can’t cry, we have to be manly and strong and tough.

“I’ve just found that if we shift that conversation we can hopefully save a lot of blokes from mental health and suicide.”

Mr Weir has a heavy focus on educating youth, and one of the way funds raised through The Shaka Project are directed is for visits to schools and sporting clubs to provide workshops to generate conversation and raise awareness.

Not only is there a focus on early intervention, but Mr Weir said it is important to him to focus on regional areas of Australia.

“Our biggest suicide numbers are in regional New South Wales and Queensland in Australia,” he said.

“Being in a small isolated town can be really hard for people too – you also might be single or you might have been divorced – so being in these regional areas completely by yourself, away from the world can be really tough on your mental health.

“Those regional areas are really struggling.”

The fundraising event will see Mr Weir hosting a presentation about The Shaka Project, their initiatives, mental health and support tools and resources.

Mr Weir commended Ms Kennett on her passion for raising mental health awareness.

“Harmony has been great, as a young female wanting to get people to talk about it is really powerful,” Mr Weir said.

“For us, when we do these things, I definitely don’t see them as fundraisers, I just want people to be able to leave with a bit more understanding and a bit more awareness for mental health.”

The event is set to be held in June, and ticket information will be released soon.

The Shaka Project will have a pop up shop of merchandise available on the night for purchase.

Proceeds from the night will go to The Shaka Project, to assist with future workshops and operation of their upcoming initiatives.