WOMBATS, injuries and torrential downpours haven’t stopped 86-year-old Alan Staines from completing his epic mission.
It’s been a month since the octogenarian set off on his 320km walk from Canberra to Sydney to highlight the struggles of bereaved Australians who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Alan – the founder of Suicide Prevention Australia and respected Salvation Army envoy – left Parliament House on October 16 for his epic Walk for Life. And the pioneer mental health advocate has finally reached Sydney, arriving on Thursday November 15.
Along the way he said he endured niggling injuries, torrential downpours, even some near mishaps tripping over wombats and at times trekking with the aid of two walking sticks.
The whole trip is worth it, if I can even help save one life.”
Just a few years shy of his 90th birthday, the community organised a guard of honour at NSW Parliament House with Chatswood High School Concert Band, to show their appreciation.
He was met by the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and NSW Minister for Mental Health and Ageing and was joined by his wife of sixty-five years, Lois Staines, who says he is “one humble yet determined octogenarian”.
On the route he took in around 14 towns in ACT and NSW where he spoke to local communities, providing information on suicide bereavement and how to support bereaved friends, as well as information on local and national support services.
“Those impacted by suicide are up to eight times more likely to take their own lives than the general population,” said Alan, who is the National Secretary of Postvention Australia – The National Association for the Bereaved by Suicide.
Alan said despite being caught in a torrential rain storm, walking up to 15km a day was well worth the cause.
“For an 86-year-old I’m not doing too bad,” said Alan, who travelled with a support crew alongside. “But the whole trip is worth it, if I can even help save one life.”
“There are at least eight suicides a day in this country and with each suicide, there are at least 135 people directly impacted as a result.”
“Suicide has a huge ripple effect and the sad part is there is very little support out there. The stigma has to be undone. As tragic as suicide is, we need to honour these lives.”
Alan said along the way people had stopped for a chat.
“One man pulled over and asked if I wanted a lift. When I told him why I was doing the walk – to help people who have been affected by suicide – he was so emotional and just started crying,” he said.
“That consolidated everything in my mind. This is why I am doing it, It’s about giving a voice to people who need it.”
‘Stem the tide’ of suicide
Alan has always been a man on a mission. As a young Salvation Army Officer in the 1940s, he walked the streets of Sydney around Kings Cross. His message is simple, ‘take time to listen, take time to talk.’
And as the founder and director of Hope for Life, the Salvation Army’s Suicide Prevention Bereavement Support Services, from 2006 to 2013 Alan was a driving force behind the establishment of the Salvation Army’s suicide bereavement services.
In 2002 he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal for services to young people and received the Order of the Founder, The Salvation Army’s highest honour, in 2007.
“Deaths in Australia due to suicide now exceed motor vehicle accidents, war, natural disasters and homicides combined. The hidden costs of suicidal behaviour are estimated to be $17 billion a year. And yet, there is little attention given to the issue of suicide,” he said.
Alan and Postvention Australia are calling on all sections of government to urgently implement strategies to stem the tide of suicides and provide services for the many impacted by suicide.
“Information and support are important in helping the bereaved survive through the pain of grief. Recent research has demonstrated that getting help and information is still a haphazard process without a clear pathway. Postvention Australia seeks to address some of the gaps in our response to suicide,” he added.
Alan now hopes to help set up a national outreach peer support program for people bereaved by suicide with funds raised.
“This will probably be my last hurrah,” he said.
If you are affected by issues raised in this story phone:
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
If it is an emergency dial 000