My journey with Movember started off as something that was a bit of fun. Back when I was 18, myself and a group of mates decided to grow moustaches, just to see if we could do it.
But the experience became real in 2009.
I’d recently come back from working overseas in America and was looking to move in with one of my best mates, Mark. A few weeks before I was due to move in, he came to my work and we had a chat, a normal chat about the weekend. At the end he said goodbye. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but it was something we had never said to each other. We’d always say "see you later" or "see you soon."
Later that night, two friends told me Mark had taken his own life.
I didn’t believe it to start with. He was the sort of character who would fill a room with energy as soon as he’d walk in. Everyone was drawn to his life and spark. To think he was no longer here was something I couldn’t comprehend. The only other death I’d ever experienced was the death of a grandparent, not the death of a young guy. Mark was 23 when he took his own life.
My whole group of friends were shocked. We’d never really heard about suicide or depression before, and Movember became our rallying point. Our way to honour a friend who was no longer here, by growing a moustache.
Every year from 2009, we all raised funds. We’d rally around Movember and raise money in memory of Mark. But it all changed in 2012.
I was down in Melbourne staying at a girlfriend’s house on a Sunday night. I picked up my phone and there were 48 missed calls, all from my close group of mates. They’d left a few voicemail messages and I listened to the first message from a friend, Leigh. He was crying on the phone and just said ‘You need to call me’. My mind immediately went to our friend Liam.
Liam was an all-round great guy. An amazing sportsman and fit as a fiddle, but he was struck down with chronic fatigue and then began to experience depression. He had a partner and a little daughter Leila who was about to turn two the following week. I rang Leigh and he gave me the news that Liam had taken his own life.
This was a real turning point for my whole group of mates.
We all went around to Liam’s partner’s house to see if there was anything we could do to help support them. Here we were, in exactly the same situation as we were in 2009. The same group of mates, now 23 and 24 years old, brought together by the same mental health issue.
We were all sitting around and Leila walked out holding her Mum’s phone. She was swiping through photos and pointing at pictures of Liam, saying "Dad. Dad. Where’s Dad?" I don’t know how Liam’s partner has carried on the way she has. Every single one of us was a sobbing mess. What do you say to a little girl, about to turn two, asking "Where’s Dad?"
I remember thinking "This shouldn’t be happening. These are two mates in their twenties that are no longer here." I wanted to do something to change this.
A couple of days later I rang a mate and said that I was going to run 100kms. Run all the way from Dunkeld to Stawell. I wanted to do something that would raise awareness, get some dollars donated and capture the attention of the media. I wanted to make sure that they got the story out – that there was a guy willing to put himself through the sheer hell of a 100km marathon to get mates talking to each other if they’re going through a tough time.
It spread like wildfire and I was joined on the run by a whole group of incredible Mo Bros and Mo Sistas. People who had never run more than 5kms ran half marathons with me. This one event became more than we ever thought it would be. The community really rallied behind us and there were over a thousand people waiting at the finish line. The run began a bigger conversation for my town. Men who had experienced mental health issues or cancer in the past were waiting to shake my hand. Their partners wanted to give me a hug. We’d achieved what we set out to do.
The most memorable moment came when I was walking back to the car with my Dad. He put his arm around me and said "Thanks mate." I was absolutely buggered and just wanted to get home but I asked "What do you mean?" He said "Only your Mum and you know this, but I battled depression when I was in my 20s." This was a conversation I wouldn’t have had with my Dad, if it wasn’t for this run and the Movember Foundation. Without it he might not have ever felt comfortable opening up about his mental health battle.
Movember has given us a voice to talk confidently and openly about men’s health. It has given us a license, moustache or not, to have those important conversations with your best mate. There’s no filter in our conversations anymore. The boys and myself are very direct in getting to the bottom of an issue if someone in our friendship group is having a tough time.
Kieran Ryan, Mo Bro since 2008
Visit Kieran's fundraising page
Kieran Ryan: For the boys close to me who lost their battles
Date: 10 October 2016