Ben Gibbeson is determined to shatter the mental-health stigma after his cousin ended his own life.
The QBE Sydney Swans Academy star was left devastated when Jason Woods cut his life short in November 2015, and after finding a spark of inspiration in Jason’s brother, the 18-year-old is on a mission.
Gibbeson’s Coffs Harbour Breakers will raise crucial funds for mental-health organisation the Black Dog Institute in a charity match against the Sawtell-Toormina Saints on Saturday afternoon.
The club will run a raffle and set up a donation bucket at the canteen, while in a nod to the internationally recognised colour for mental health, the Breakers’ men’s and women’s senior sides will also unveil a striking lime-green guernsey.
Jason’s brother Ben leapt to the applaudable commitment of riding around Australia in an effort dubbed Ride for Jase, beginning the 20,000-kilometre trek in June 2017 and finishing in February the following year.
The ride has driven Gibbeson to make a statement of his own, and after a chat with his club’s president, he will do exactly that in Saturday’s Fitzroy Oval clash.
“Jason’s brother rode around Australia for the Ride for Jase raising money and awareness, and that really inspired everyone,” Gibbeson told Swans Media.
“His brother has inspired me to stand up, take action and not let it affect others.”
Jason left his family behind at the age of 29, and a glance at Australian Bureau of Statistics records show he was one of thousands battling demons.
In Australia, 2151 men (5.9 per day) committed suicide in 2016, while death by suicide among men is equivalent to more than 77,500 years of potential life lost.
One in eight men will also experience depression in their lifetime, and one in five will fight anxiety.
Gibbeson remembers Jason as a seemingly trouble-free guy, which he says serves as a critical reminder.
“I was very surprised by his death. He was a really happy, outgoing person and you wouldn’t expect that he’d be suffering from a severe mental illness. He was really outgoing, really happy, always up for a chat, always up for a laugh and always cracking jokes, so you never really expected him to be suffering through that,” Gibbeson said.
“You’ve got to be open with communication, you’ve got to talk to them and you’ve got to make sure you’re on the same path as those who are close to you.”
The ladder-leading Breakers will be on the hunt for their 10th win of the season in the AFL North Coast competition, but helping his team to victory on Saturday won’t be Gibbeson’s top priority.
“It’s really important to raise money and awareness for mental health,” Gibbeson said.
“We’ve had a number of young people take their own lives in Coffs Harbour recently, so it’s a real issue up here at the moment. I’m hoping this game can draw a big crowd and create a lot of awareness among the community. The bigger the crowd the more funds we will raise.”
The Sydney Swans and Black Dog joined forces in April, partnering to deliver mental-health training to high schools across Australia.
Who: Coffs Harbour Breakers v Sawtell-Toormina Saints
Where: Fitzroy Oval, Coffs Harbour
When: Saturday, 2:50pm