Surfers Against Suicide
Surfers Against Suicide (SAS) is a not-for-profit organisation, which aims to galvanize the international surfing community in raising awareness for suicide prevention, promoting better mental health and building resilience. SAS Director Mark Whithear, alongside Kommunity Project Director John Sayers, set up the organisation aiming to give something back to the surfing fraternity. We spoke to Mark to learn more about SAS and the work they do.
How did the idea for SAS arise?
John and I wanted to give something back to the surfing community, which like other sporting communities doesn’t often engage in mental health discussions. It’s also not a new idea that exercise is good for your mental health, but if you can’t solve your problems out in the surf, you’re probably in need of some help. We wanted to help provide that support to surfers.
We kicked things off in January 2013 with an event aimed at giving SAS a profile and raising some money. We had Kelly Slater involved in that event, which attracted about 40,000 people. What resulted was amazing – more than just raising money - we connected with various community organisations and we even had footage included in the film OUT in the line-up. Our tagline is ‘The Ripple Effect’ and the impact from that event has been long lasting, people still talk about it today. Since then we’ve been gathering a worldwide network of SAS ambassadors to continue to promote mental health discussions.
What does Surfers Against Suicide provide?
Our role is to provide education and to raise awareness about suicide prevention. We also provide support for people who have been affected by suicide. SAS aims to partner with other organisations including Head Space, Mental Health Australia, Suicide Prevention and Lifeline to equip individuals and small communities with the right tools to set up their own systems for suicide prevention.
“I think it’s important for the smaller charities not to try and duplicate the role of larger charities – we leverage their work to enable what we want to do.”
We have people in various locations in Australia, the United States, Germany and even South America, who are taking our lead and looking at what they can do in their community. I recently had a woman contact me from Memphis who was so inspired about what we’re doing, she wanted to make cupcakes and raise money for SAS – it’s amazing how far our reach has spread, especially for a small organisation. This is largely the result of our team of volunteers - Anthony Brown and Todd Montgomery - who do a great job promoting SAS through our website and on social media.
What’s the most rewarding part about what you do?
Being able to provide genuine input, to help others and to make a difference. I’m really positive about where things are heading and I believe that we’ll see a reduction in suicide statistics. The surfing part is rewarding and it’s great to see a lot more interest from the younger generations getting involved with charities. I also enjoy the mentoring aspect. I had a lot of good mentors when I was a teenager- it’s good to ensure the positive message continues on.
“I recently had a woman contact me from Memphis who was inspired about what we’re doing – it’s amazing how far our reach has spread.”
What’s the hardest?
Hearing from people who’ve lost someone to suicide. The impact is devastating, financially and emotionally, especially when there are children and families left behind. In addition to the support available, surfing really helps. Avoiding suicide often involves finding a purpose, exercising and talking to people; they all help to stave off the demons.
What role do you think surfers should play in the community?
I’d like to see more mentoring – surfers taking a little bit of their time actively trying to mentor someone. Having a mental health conversation regularly, whether that’s with family, friends or someone in your community, is really important. We see strong mentors in the surf clubs but they aren’t often equipped with mental health training, which would make a big difference. One of the tools we help to fund is a two-day Mental Health First Aid course, which provides strategies to support and support people in the community, especially if they start to withdraw. We’re raising funds for our SAS ambassadors to complete the Mental Health First Aid courses and we’re encouraging small communities to adopt Suicide Prevention tool kits.
How can people get involved or support SAS?
We’d love to get some of the bigger name surfers more involved with SAS so we can hold more major events like the one Kelly supported. Raising money means putting more people through the Mental Health First Aid course and spreading the word about mental health and suicide prevention. If people want to help out they can contact us via our website.
If you, or someone you know, is in need of urgent support or help please call:
Lifeline Australia - 13 11 14 | National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Where can we find you online?
Surfers Charging for Change Series
This article is the fifth in a series that we are penning, which highlights some of the leaders in sustainable surfing practices and showcases the inspiring efforts of surfers around the globe tackling issues including; the eradication of plastics, clean water, empowerment through education and enabling greater access for surfers with disabilities, just to name a few. Stay tuned for the next instalment...
Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on January 19, 2016
Jarra Campbell - the Bondi Alchemist
Greg Gordon - Owner of CR Surf
Shayne Nienaber - Surf Photographer
Alexa Hohenberg - Owner of Still Stoked
Christine Deveney - TapaReef Owner & Creator
Russell Ord - Surf Photographer
Richard Kotch - Surf Photographer
Mick McComas - Red Island Travel Owner
Brian McDonald - Matanivusi Beach Eco Resort Owner
Alena Ehrenbold - Surf Film Director & Freesurfer