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Australia Suicide awareness push-up challenge gets Brisbane footy club players and supporters on the deck to remember a mate

09:05  11 june  2021
09:05  11 june  2021 Source:   abc.net.au

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a group of people that are standing in the grass: Morningside AFL club has raised $15,000 for suicide awareness by committing to the push-up challenge.   (Supplied: Ben Ashmole) © Provided by ABC News Morningside AFL club has raised $15,000 for suicide awareness by committing to the push-up challenge.   (Supplied: Ben Ashmole)

It's a freezing cold Thursday night at Jack Esplen Oval in Brisbane's south-east.

The AFL field, home to the Morningside Panthers, is more than two hectares in size.

Half of the oval is filled with hundreds of people doing push-ups together at the same time.

Hugo Crawford from the club's 2020 under 14 premiership team explains why.

"This was all for Jonah," he said.

Jonah Waterson was 14 when he took his own life on May 31, 2020.

His parents saw no warning signs — he was their happy, sport-loving son.

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Last night, more than a year on from Jonah's death, Peter and Fiona Waterson and their daughter Georgia stood alongside players, coaches, parents and volunteers from the Morningside AFL club for 'Panthers Prepare to Push'.

For one minute, the group did push-ups to support of some of Jonah's under 14 Panthers teammates, who are partaking in 'the Push-Up Challenge' run by the Push for Better Foundation.

Over a 25-day period, each of them is committed to doing 3,318 push-ups — the number of Australians who died by suicide in 2019.

That works out at 133 a day.

Brisbane Lions ruckman Archie Smith was at the club last night to take part.

He is doing the challenge for his brother Sebastian, who took his own life on November 30 last year, just two days after Smith's engagement party.

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"I am still finding ways to cope," Smith said.

"I'll be honest with you, I am still not 100 per cent [done] with my grieving.

"But what is helping me is being able to use Sebastian's name and his legacy to help young kids, and that's why I am here.

"[Suicide] is something that doesn't really discriminate, it kind of affects all different types of backgrounds and people, and can hit you at any time of your life.

"We can't change the past but this is what we do next, just break the stigma around it, start talking about it a bit more and make it a bit comfortable for young kids especially."

'Make people more confident to speak out'

Smith is no stranger to hard training, but even he was struggling with the push-up tally.

"It's actually pretty tough — I am 1,200 in but I just stepped back and realised why I am doing it and what I am doing it for, for my little brother, it's more than just an exercise," he said.

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"To have such a large community, [the under 14 Panthers players] should be really proud of themselves, especially young boys, you know 14 or 15 years-old that's going to have an enormous impact, it's going to make people more confident to speak out and seek help.

"It needs to be seen as a strength, not a weakness, to speak out."

Hugo is one of six Panthers doing the push-up challenge in honour of Jonah.

He said it was inspiring to have Smith with them at the club.

"He's got a similar story with his brother, him realising what we're going through as well it's amazing for him to come down and support us," Hugo said.

"Last year, when we lost our mate Jonah, just before round one of the season … it was really really shocking, I just got a text message from one of my mates and it took a bit to sink in.

"We started off hoping to raise $1,000 — now we're at $15,000.

"It was really good to have everyone around, the whole Morningside Panthers community, come together to do some pushups as a group.

"I think we'll have [Jonah] in the back of our heads for every game we play for the rest of our lives.

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"The best thing we can do is learn from it."

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Mental health education and welfare organisation Outside The Locker Room has been working with the Morningside Panthers for several years.

They hold sessions during the season for players and coaches.

The group's state program manager, Zina Fetahagic, said severe mental health issues impacted one in five people.

"For the 12 to 17-year-old age bracket, 8 per cent of the population contemplates suicide," she said.

Important to talk about it

Ms Fetahagic said the topic of suicide needed more open discussion.

"We need to do more things like this (the push-up challenge) so it isn't an awkward thing to talk about and it becomes a part of everyday life," she said.

"That 14-to-25 age group is such a pivotal point in growth and that's when a lot of mental health struggles come along.

"What a lot of people forget is that when they come to football, it's probably the best version of themselves, so it's good to build that network here and be able to transfer it into your everyday life."

Ms Fetahagic said it was amazing to see so many people turn up for the Panthers push-up night so close to the anniversary of Jonah Waterson's death.

"It's just shows the resilience of the club and the resilience of the boys that … unfortunately this stuff does happen, but the best thing we can do is learn from it."

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