Steve's Story

One man's journey to impact sufferers of depression and to remove the stigma against this debilitating illness

While it's long been associated with freedom as well as rebellion, motorcycle riding is mainly about one thing: FUN. It's great for getting that adrenalin rush, for enjoying the spirit of adventure on and off the beaten track, and it's great for pursuing a little solitude. Somewhat paradoxically, riding a motorbike is also a great opportunity for bonding with mates. You may have to actually ride before you'll understand exactly how this works.

So anyway, we're having fun, riding motorbikes. But for many of our fellow riders, the word fun has left their vocabulary: these are the ones who are suffering from Depression.

As we ride, our aim is to raise awareness (and funds) for those crippled by depression. We also want to assist the people around them their friends, family, and colleagues who support them. Together, we can shine the light into the dark places, unleash the spirit of freedom, and bring some FUN back into their lives again.

On 26th July 2009, Steve commenced his ride around Australia by motorbike to raise community awareness about depression, our silent epidemic

The statistics regarding depression are quite staggering.

  • 1 in 5 people will experience depression in their lifetime.
  • This year alone 1,000,000 people in Australia will experience a depressive illness.
  • Depression is the third largest individual heath problem in Australia after heart disease and stroke.
  • In the work place depression accounts for six million working days lost each year.
  • Chances are that you or someone close to you will be affected by a depressive illness at some time in your life.

Steve writes about his reasons for undertaking his long journey.

Whilst I have not suffered personally from depression it has had a major impact on my life. Four weeks after the birth of my 4th child my mother tragically took her own life. I did not understand at the time why, but have subsequently discovered that she had for many years battled depression. That was over 15 years ago but I still carry the regret that I didn't know of her struggle with this silent killer and often wonder if things could have turned out differently had she and her family and friends been more aware of this illness.

There has been considerable research done which claims 40% of mental illness is genetic. My brother has struggled throughout most of his life with depression which has resulted in him turning to alcohol and drugs at different times. It has caused him to lead a rather reclusive life. He has battled hard against this adversity and I am pleased to say he is in a fairly good place at the moment. He has only opened up about his depression since he became aware of my project.

Call me protected and perhaps unobservant but about 5 years ago I was shocked to learn that my eldest child who was 26 at the time had been struggling with depression for many years and had started taking anti-depressants. I didn't understand and probably didn't really do much to help. Yes, she knew I loved her and I would call her often to ask how she was but I really didn't know how to deal with it other than to help pay for her to see a psychologist. I just wanted her to get off the medication which I knew could have strong side effects and get back to "normal". I am relieved and proud to say that she has managed her way through this dark time in her life and got herself off medication. She now has a master's degree in psychology and is helping others in need.

Twelve months ago I received a phone call from an old friend David who had not long ago lost his wife in a tragic domestic accident. She, as I later found out, had also suffered from depression and although it did not cause her death directly, it may have ultimately been a contributing factor. David's phone call left me in stunned disbelief. My best friend Jack, best man at my wedding, had just discovered his beautiful wife Anna had drowned herself in the river near the family home. How could this be? The last time I had seen them was at my 2nd daughter's wedding. They were so happy and had such fun. In my mind it was inconceivable that they had gone from that to Anna ending her life. Over the next few days I learned that Anna had battled with depression for many years and that Jack had only discovered this 12 months earlier when she had attempted suicide. Why hadn't Anna talked to Jack about her despair and feelings of hopelessness, and why didn't Jack talk to his best friend when he became aware of the problem? Could it have been the stigma which seems to be attached to mental illness that makes it a taboo subject to talk about?

I knew that I had to do something.

It was at Anna's wake that all of these thoughts and questions crystallized in my mind and I knew that I had to do something, anything, to fight this epidemic of depression which seemed to be surrounding me. An old family friend of my wife Jennifer was at the bar of the yacht club where the wake was held. He and Jen were talking about why we were there when much to her surprise and shock he admitted that he suffered from depression. At first he was actually quite reluctant to talk about it but Jen is a good listener and he opened up as the conversation evolved. Basically he didn't confide in his friends or workmates that he had the illness for fear that he would be perceived as weak. This was a mature successful businessman, competitive sailor and great family man who was scared to talk about something which changed his life substantially in such a negative way.

Hearing of this I knew there and then what I was going to do to make a difference. I had long held a dream to ride around Australia and here was a purpose, a compelling, driving reason for me to fulfill that dream and at the same time raise much needed awareness about the insidious nature of depression.

Since deciding to embark on my mission we have lost another dear friend to suicide. A childhood friend of Jennifer's who had been battling bipolar disorder and schizophrenia for some time gave up her fight with the black dog and ended her troubled life.

During my 26 day trip around our vast country, as well as raising awareness about depression I have set myself the goal of raising $75,000 which will go to the Suicide Call Back Service. There are many wonderful organisations which work in this area but S.C.B.S is a national service which does fantastic work helping people at risk of suicide as well as those who have been effected by a suicide.

I would also like to mention that I am very grateful to the Lions Clubs of Australia who are supporting me during the ride and assisting with my fundraising. Without their help and that of many other generous individuals and organisations who have supported and sponsored the ride it would not have been possible.

Please remember, depression is an illness not a weakness and effective treatments are available. It's important to seek help early and with the right treatment most people recover.

It is ok to reach out for help; it's ok to talk about the way you feel. You don't have to battle it on your own.

Thank you.

Steve Andrews

Founder and First Rider

Black Dog Ride

2009