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Celebrities come together to tackle suicide

Youth Focus has welcomed a celebrity football match to raise critical awareness about youth mental health, saying it will foster community conversations to help prevent suicide.

The Tackling Suicide Celebrity and Community Charity Match has been organised by Outside the Locker Room, a mentoring and education program that provides professional development and support for daily challenges, in partnership with Youth Focus and Lifeline WA.

Outside the Locker Room was founded by fourth generation AFL player Jake Edwards, who was diagnosed with depression at the age of 19 and, at his lowest, contemplated suicide.

Now, Edwards is making it his mission to work with sporting clubs and schools to educate young people about alcohol, drugs, self esteem, mental health and suicide. He recently launched the program in WA.

The February 24 event at Lathlain Park, which highlights the suicide prevention message, will draw a bevy of high-profile athletes and local personalities who will compete in a twilight football match.

The Perth Demons and Peel Thunder will battle it out in the curtain raiser, the inaugural Youth Focus Cup, at 3.30pm before the celebrity match at 5.30pm. Among the celebrities to pull on their boots will be AFL champions Troy Cook, Peter Bell, Drew Petrie, Luke McPharlin, Andrew Embley, Daniel Kerr, Jake Edwards, David Wirrpanda, Dale Kickett, Paul Hasleby, Sam Butler, Shaun McManus and Ryan Crowley. Hockeyroo Ashleigh Nelson, ex-Kookaburra Simon Orchard, Channel 9 personality Paddy Sweeney and ABC Radio presenter Nadia Mitsopoulos will round out the team. Wildcats champions Greg Hire, a long-term advocate for youth mental health, and Damian Martin will also attend.

Youth Focus Community Engagement Manager Chris Harris said community awareness was an integral part of the organisation’s mission to prevent suicide.

“Youth Focus is proud to be involved in this community event, which will raise awareness about youth mental health to help us continue our suicide prevention crusade,” Mr Harris said.

“Sadly, suicide is the leading cause of preventable death amongst Australian youth, but we believe that as a community, we can make a positive difference.”

Latest statistics show 54 young people aged between 15 and 24 took their own lives in WA in 2016. For every suicide, another 20 people attempt to take their own lives.

“Events like this are about helping to build communities that have the skills and know-how to start conversations about mental health and help their mates in need,” Mr Harris said. “In Australia, we know that 75 per cent of all mental illnesses first appear in people under the age of 25 so early intervention and creating supportive communities is paramount.”

Mr Harris said Youth Focus supported around 3000 young each year through free, unlimited counselling services and outreach programs in schools.

Event organiser and Outside the Locker Room WA Program Manager Kristi Annear said her idea to hold a charity football match had been driven by a desire to foster greater awareness in the program in WA and, more generally, about youth mental health.

“Suicide rates are unacceptably high and people aged 15 to 35 are at most risk,” Ms Annear said.

“Outside the Locker Room gives this demographic plus parents, teachers, club administration staff and coaches the knowledge to recognise the signs of depression and the effects that alcohol, drugs and social bullying have on this.

“We are not only increasing the mental health knowledge of these people but also developing socially aware future leaders in our communities.”

Entry to the event is $10 an adult and by gold coin donation for children under the age of 16. All proceeds raised will go towards Perth mental health education programs provided by Outside the Locker Room and Lifeline WA.

If you or someone you know needs urgent support please contact the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467, the Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.