Awareness Of Mental Health Can Be As Easy As Taking One ‘Step Ahead’

Mental Health is real. It’s knocking on our front door. It’s sleeping next to us at night time. It’s watching you poor the milk on your cereal every morning. And it is affecting more of us than we know. Maybe not you personally, but someone you may know or love is fighting the inner demon day by day.

Mental Health Week has come to a successful end for another year. A given time out of the year to step forward and use our voices. To spread awareness, to share our stories, to remember those who have lost their battle to mental illness, and the most important thing.. To simply ask those around us if they are okay.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 8.03.05 pm1 in 4 Australians between the ages of 18 – 25 will experience some sort of mental illness at some point in their lives. While many people have come forth with their illness, just as many are fighting on their own. This is why it is important for every person to raise the issue with those around us, as it is unclear how many may suffering with out our knowledge.

Actively creating awareness for Mental Health are three young girls from Southern Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. Brooke Turpin, Jessica Ettia and Phoebe Brasher are the mindful and brave women to bring about the ‘Step Ahead’ walk that has ran annually for the past two years.

The idea came to the group of girls after the tragic passing of two young women from the Sutherland Shire community, Richelle Turpin, 26 of Barden Ridge and Nadia Di Michele, 23, of Illawong. The two women both sadly lost their battles to mental illness, both taking their own lives on the same day in March 2014.

‘Step Ahead is a walk for all ages in the community from Eloura (Wanda Beach in Cronulla) to Boat Harbour and return, to raise money for mental health for young people like you and me”, says Phoebe Brasher.

“Last year we had 500 people walk and we raised over $25,000. This year we would love to match it or even better, raise more money” she said,

Turpin, Ettia and Brasher all agreed the main goals of the annual Step Ahead Walk were:

  • To raise awareness for mental health
  • Raise funds to put back into community services within the Sutherland Shire
  • Remove the stigma that is associated with mental health
  • To remember those who have sadly lost their battle with mental illness

The girls successfully set up the fundraiser in conjunction with supporting the accessibility of Mental Health services in The Sutherland Shire. “We wanted to raise money and give our support to Headspace Miranda and the YMCA Brightside Program” Miss Brasher adds.

Brooke Turpin is the sister of Richelle Turpin who passed away in early 2014. In honour of her sister, she wants people to know that it isn’t always apparent that people are suffering from depression or mental illness. “She had everything going for her including a great job, great house, great partner, great son and a great family but as most of you may know Mental Illness does not discriminate”

“My sister was not a loner, she was not bullied and she wasn’t your typical mental illness sufferer. She was beautiful, bold, lively, independent, successful and generous soul.”

“I do not over exaggerate when I say her death will forever be the single most difficult thing I have to deal with in life. It does not get easier and the pain does not go away however creating something good as helped to fulfil a purpose and give her life meaning” she said.

The creators have even set up a Facebook page to reach out to those online. The page has already received almost 2300 likes.


Photo: Step Ahead Facebook Page

Juliet Reeve, a graduate Psychologist of Macquarie University, now practicing in the United Kingdom, says mental health is far too concealed for how heavy the issue is. “The fact that Mental illness can be hidden so well by some people is astounding. Many bottle up their thoughts and feelings without telling a single person. What is alarming is that someone you may know could be fighting this inward battle without even the slightest warning sign”.

“This is why mental health awareness has such a significant impact on the nation. It allows people to open up and make their illness known to those around them. They shouldn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed, as coming forwards the first step to improvement”, Reeve added.

Suicide among youths has attracted a large amount of attention with the disturbing figures of just how many teens and young adults have lost their battles. The Step Ahead Walk aims to bring attention and give help to these young people who may be in the midst of mental illness.

Natalie McFarlane, a local student in the Sutherland Shire, knows well and truly the difficulty of being a teen and fighting depression.

“It wasn’t until my last two school years that it crept up on me. I put so much pressure on myself to do well in school. I studied every day, put in every ounce of effort, gave up most of my social life so that I would succeed in the HSC”.

Natalie explains the fear of not knowing what to do after high school made her scared and ‘crumble’.

“I guess, I kind of fell into this dark place where I knew if I didn’t get perfect marks I would be seen as a failure. Or at least that was how I felt at the time”.

But available services and help made her realise and act on the state of her mental health.

“I’m lucky enough to have gone to a school where help was readily available. During this time I didn’t know where to go. Every one around me seemed so chilled out about their subjects and their results. I went straight to my school counsellor. Her name was Rose and she was the best. It took a little while but I got through it”.

The Step Ahead Walk ran on the 10th of October this year, gathering 500 people along the beach of Cronulla to raise money for Mental Health. The group successfully raised $23,000 this year.

“The day itself was incredible with a turn out of 550 plus people there. There was an incredible energy that day with so many people banding together to raise awareness and funds for an important issue within our community. We had a lot of support and amazing weather which all round created a great day”, Brooke Turpin said.

Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 8.12.38 pm

In regards to the future of the Step Ahead Walk, Miss Turpin assures it is looking bright. “Our goals and hopes for the future would most likely be to see the event to continue to run at the same standard and hopefully for the turn out to improve each year. We also hope to eventually create a larger group of volunteers in order to share the work load as it is a lot for the three of us to take on and as we are growing in our personal lives and businesses we will need additional help to keep the walk alive. So I suppose all in all we hope for it to become a widely recognised community event with a great team of people seeing it grow and prosper each year”.

To get involved in the Step Ahead walk, check out their Facebook page.


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