The Strezlecki Track is one of the most remote and desolate areas of Australia. In ideal conditions it takes a good 14 hours to get there if you were to drive from Adelaide in South Australia in a 4WD. A few months ago while driving along the track I came across a solitary dead gum tree, devoid of all its foliage painted sky blue. Why? I would ask myself in a conversation with my mind over and over again.
After all, while this area of the world has a certain rugged and naked beauty it is not the type of place where you would sit down and paint for the hell of it. But apparently you do and there is a solid reason behind painting not only this tree but thousands of others too.
From the northern most tropical tip of Australia to the rugged southern coastline people have begun painting dead (and I emphasise dead) old trees blue. No, they are not out of their minds, quite the opposite. Their action is in support of those who are suffering from mental illness and they hope that by painting the dead trees blue they will highlight mental issues in their community and a spark conversation amongst others.
According to the Australian Institute of Health people living in remote areas are twice as likely to die from suicide when compared with the rest of the community. So anything that sparks a conversation in a topic that has for far too long been hidden and not talked about for fear of being embarrassed, ostracized, bullied or left friendless has to be a good start.
The Blue Tree Project began when founder Kendall Whyte’s brother, Jayden, took his own life. What began as a joke to mischievously paint a tree in regional Western Australia to honour his memory has morphed into a symbol for people to seek help if feeling blue. Trees have now been planted in other nations included the US, UK, Europe and New Zealand. Not bad for a crazy idea that began in a shed in the wheat belt of Western Australia a mere two years ago. The organisation has a simple motto:
Our mission is to help spark difficult conversations and encourage people to speak up when battling mental health concerns. By spreading the paint and spreading the message that “it’s OK to not be OK”, we can help break down the stigma that’s still largely attached to mental health.
It further states that: More needs to be done to help people with mental health concerns. Stronger support of our professional health system is necessary so we can help people like Jayden – those brave enough to seek help. Tragically, Jayden took his life after being released from hospital twice in one day.
He was overlooked in an overwhelmed system which is not made for modern society mental health. With this project, we hope to raise awareness around mental wellbeing and help reduce the stigma.
If you would like to help contact the Blue Tree Project at:
More than 3000 Australians died by suicide in 2019. Suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians between 15 and 44 years of age. Young Australians are more likely to take their own life than die in motor vehicle accidents. In 2017, about 75% of people who died by suicide were males and 25% were females..