LONG-serving Ambulance Victoria team manager and local paramedic, Don Gillies, was proud of his ponytail but is even prouder of his work colleagues. Don farewelled his much loved mane in Wonthaggi on Wednesday to raise money for programs aimed at tackling mental illness amongst paramedics and the wider community. Working with Ambulance Victoria for over 30 years, which includes the past decade in Wonthaggi and now Mirboo North, Don has seen and experienced the heartache of losing colleagues who have taken their own lives. “It’s always been something I thought of but in 2010 a colleague suicided and it shattered everyone. Another colleague suicided a year ago and that was the moment that I knew I had to do something,” Don said. “Ambulance paramedics, like the rest of the community, aren’t immune to the issues of depression and mental illness. “I want to highlight these issues to paramedics by shaving my head and growing the awareness. “I plan to use that attention to promote the Victorian Ambulance Counselling Unit (VACU), the Stress Management and Resilience Tools (SMART) program and the new MANERS psychological first aid DVD. “By supporting beyondblue and these psychological programs, we can raise awareness of the importance of taking care of ourselves, looking out for each other and supporting each other. “I am fundraising for beyondblue to assist not only my peers but the wider community to seek assistance in their struggles with depression.” Prior to Don shaving his hair and beard, he shared his emotional story of his formative years as a young policeman and some of the incidents that shaped his life before moving into paramedics. “I was going down a fairly dark road and my wife Sue was doing everything she could to help me… she saved my life,” Don said. Don was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. The diagnosis he says was something that in a way eased the burden. “That put me on the path to wellbeing. I don’t ever want to go back there again,” he said. “There have been a significant number of my peers that haven’t made that leap to get help and they are no longer with us. I don’t want to do another funeral, I can’t do another funeral.” Don decided to raise funds for beyondblue because through his work, he sees the impacts of depression in the community. With support from local people, groups and paramedics across Australia and the globe, Don’s cause has so far raised $7000. “We got it rolling and it rolled past where I had hoped it would ever get to,” Don said. “I want people to think and to talk about it. If what we are doing here makes one person go and get help instead of going down that road, then it will all be worth it.” Ambulance Victoria’s acting regional manager, Gippsland, Grant Hocking, said it’s great to see people getting involved in fundraising and supporting the proactive initiatives to assist employees and beyondblue. “Don’s hair is fairly legendary in the region and we congratulate him wholeheartedly,” Mr Hocking said. “The work that paramedics do can be stressful and in recognition of this, we have our own, internationally recognised Wellbeing unit which takes a holistic approach to paramedic health and wellbeing.” The unit also provides a number of education and support programs to help managers and paramedics proactively identify symptoms in themselves, their team or their colleagues. “Ambulance Victoria is serious about tackling issues such as psychological health in a proactive and preventative way,” Mr Hocking said. “While the available data indicates that paramedics do not attempt suicide at higher levels than the general population, psychological health is a real issue for us, as it is within the emergency services more generally. We congratulate Don for raising awareness in such an innovative way.” Don’s wife Sue and daughters Elissa and Blaire were on hand to see his transformation and assist with the grooming. Sue said she was very proud of her husband and appreciative of the supportive services in place with Ambulance Victoria. “For families who support people in emergency services, to have these services available for families is really important,” Sue said. Blaire was having trouble taking in Don’s new look. “He looks so bizarre. I have seen him with short hair but I have never seen him without a beard,” Blaire said. Don was also taken aback by his new look. “It’s weird, just weird. I think I’ll be rubbing my head for hours now getting used to it,” Don said. Don’s hair, which was carefully cropped, will be going to the Cancer Council wigmaker to provide wigs for cancer patients. To donate to Don’s cause or for any more information, please visit www.gofundme.com/1sk70o Contact beyondblue on 1300 224 636 or Lifeline on 13 11 14 if you are in need of immediate assistance or talk to someone you trust.
Ambo’s hair goes for depression awareness