Pedal 2 Perth 4 Paul cycle from Margaret River to Mullaloo for men’s mental health

David Graden (Connolly), Craig Bull (director Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club) and Irene Strange (Ocean Reef). Photo: Martin Kennealey
David Graden (Connolly), Craig Bull (director Mullaloo Surf Life Saving Club) and Irene Strange (Ocean Reef). Photo: Martin Kennealey

CYCLING 300km in three days may seem like a challenge but it is nothing compared to the challenges faced by those battling with depression and anxiety.

David Graden (36) admits he knows firsthand about “suffering in silence”, realising in his early 20s he needed to seek help.

“Back then it definitely wasn’t the manly thing to show your vulnerable side and admit to your family and friends you’re struggling mentally and emotionally, and certainly where I lived it would have been seen as a weakness,” he said.

“There has always been a stigma attached to men and mental health.

“I finally built up the courage to ask for some help, which was short lived.

“I think I had three one-on-one sessions then I pulled the plug because it felt like it wasn’t the manly thing to do and I should have just ‘toughened up’ and ‘manned up’.

“So I suppressed all those feelings and emotions and did not address any of the issues.”

The Connolly resident said 12 years later he found himself “in the same mind frame”.

“For well over a year I tried to fight it, tried to bury it away while suffering in silence,” he said.

“I had social anxiety, isolated myself from people and I couldn’t focus on any one thing.

“One year later, I found myself in the doctors in tears – the darkest and lowest point of my life.

“Little did I know at the time, that was the turning point in my life.”

Now a few years later, Mr Graden is an ambassador for men’s mental health charity A Change For Change, inspired not only by his own struggles but also those of his brother-in-law Paul Strange, who died by suicide two years ago at the age of 30.

Paul Strange passed away two years ago.

Mr Strange’s mother Irene said he had suffered with depression for about six years.

“He always pushed himself to achieve high results and put pressure on himself whilst studying – he just passed his sports science degree before he passed,” the Ocean Reef resident said.

“About three years before, he was in Joondalup hospital and after coming home he seemed to gradually get better.

“But depression does not really go away, it is always there under the surface.”

Mrs Strange remembers her son, who was an identical twin with brother Michael, as “a kind-hearted boy”.

“He would get up in the middle of the night and you would hear the front door close and he would be going to pick up a friend to take them home because they might have had too much to drink,” she said.

“I remember when he was in Royal Perth Hospital – he called me to say a young girl had been released and she had nowhere to go that night and would I come back and take her home and let her sleep in his bed for the night, which we did. This was typical of Paul.”

Mrs Strange said life since her son had died had been “so hard every day”.

“I miss him so much and keep thinking if only I had done this or that,” she said.

“He used to always say ‘I love you, mum’ and it’s hard to make sense of it; if he loved me, why did he leave me?

“The pain of losing a child is the worst pain I have ever experienced – I have lost a brother and nephew to depression and my mother, father and sister to cancer and you hurt but losing Paul, the pain is much more intense.

“I don’t think the family will ever recover from this.”

Mrs Strange admitted there were times when the pain was too much.

“The first month was so hard I just wanted to go to sleep and not wake up because if I woke up it would be true,” she said.

“I don’t remember much of that time – I think your mind must shut down when things get too much for you to cope.

“I did have to go into hospital because the family was worried I was not coping.

“I think I did try to go to sleep but it was not to be.”

Watching his partner Nikki and her family lose a loved one to suicide prompted Mr Graden to create Pedal 2 Perth 4 Paul to “help raise mental health awareness and suicide prevention in men in Australia, and stop the suffering in silence”.

He will ride from Margaret River to Mullaloo Beach, where Mr Strange’s ashes were scattered, from December 14 to 16, stopping overnight in Bunbury and Mandurah.

“Back then I needed someone or anything to show me it was okay to be going through what I was going through and that I was not alone, there was nothing and no one,” he said.

“So the ride is my way of being that someone for somebody else.

“The black mask I will wear will be representing all the men suffering in silence – those strong men who put on a mask each day in front of family and friends and fight the fight alone.

“Mental illness is just like any other illness, we have to break down the barriers surrounding men and mental health issues.

“We need to have the uncomfortable discussions out in the public because the more we share our stories and educate people on what a mental illness is, the more people can understand and hopefully create a stigma-free society where men feel they can speak freely about their struggles without judgement.”

Mrs Strange said if the ride could help save one person from committing suicide, it could also “save one family going through the pain our family is going through”.

“If you have cancer, people will sympathise but if you say you have depression, people can’t see you are sick and they don’t understand and don’t know how to help or what to say,” she said.

Mr Graden said anyone was welcome to join him at any stage of the journey and they did not have to be a cyclist.

“I don’t do any cycling at all, I don’t even have a road bike, I am using a mountain bike with slick tyres on it,” he said.

People can check the Pedal 2 Perth 4 Paul Facebook event for start times and locations.

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