Don Gillies, a paramedic for 31 years, held a Shave to Remember to remove his iconic locks at the Wonthaggi ambulance station in South Gippsland, Victoria on 30 January 2013. Don's story was shared on our Facebook page and the post received more than 5,000 likes, smashing Beyond Blue’s record on previous posts. He has answered some questions about why he became involved with Beyond Blue.
What event did you hold?
I held a head shave event called Shave to Remember. I shaved my hair, which was a ponytail half way down my back, to raise awareness of mental stress and suicide among the Victorian paramedic population specifically, but also for the extended community we deal with.
Why did you choose to support Beyond Blue?
At the funeral for a colleague who suicided early last year (2012), I was feeling helpless and frustrated at how often this had happened.
I have had 11 colleagues suicide in the 31 years I have been a paramedic. During the eulogy at this funeral, Beyond Blue was mentioned as a support for people and I decided that this was the way I could help.
What was the response from the community from your fundraiser?
I was stunned. I thought there would be support, but I could never have dared to believe how much was there.
I received many emails and facebook contacts from friends, colleagues and strangers, all supporting the message I was hoping to share. We received donations and support from overseas paramedics!
Why is raising awareness about depression and anxiety important to you and your community?
Due to my 31 years as a paramedic and five years as a policeman prior to that, I now have a legacy of depression and PTSD that my family and I deal with.
I have attended dozens of suicides over my career, and have seen the grief and loss first hand too often. If my activity and message causes one person to reconsider suicide then it has been a massive success.
I will never know if that hope becomes a reality, but I am happy to live with myself knowing I have done something to help.
What happened at your event?
I attended in uniform and spoke about my experiences to a crowd of around 60 people; paramedics, family and general community members.
We had counsellors and psychologists present, along with members of our Ambulance Peer Support Team.
We incorporated some long service award presentations to these tireless staff then moved on to the shave.
My hair had been braided by my daughters so that when it was cut off it could be kept safe and we then sent that to Louis Barnet & Co, the official wigmakers for the Australian Cancer Council.
We had arranged this earlier so that the hair could be made into a wig for a cancer patient. I have been contacted by that company and the hair is now a wig.
The Ambulance Victoria Manager of Operations, Assoc. Prof. Tony Walker (proudly bald!) began the cutting of my hair, after which people were welcome to come and cut off a braid for a donation.
We also had an online donation campaign, and in all we raised just on $8,000 for Beyond Blue.