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Seeing the signs

Everyone needs a mate to look out for them. As Dylan Lewis explains, it could be a matter of life and death.

Dylan Lewis is in a good place. He's a confident young man who runs his own business. And he was just named Katherine's citizen of the year on Australia Day.

But life hasn't always been kind to Dylan.

Dylan moved to the Northern Territory after a bad accident in New South Wales. It left him shaken and in a bad space mentally. Then his company hit economic hardship and it tipped him over, to the point where he considered taking his own life.

"Looking back I was battling depression for well over 10 years. I was lucky I had good mates in Katherine to help me out," says Dylan.

That's why Dylan was left devastated and confused when two mates from his rugby club committed suicide a few years ago.

"No one saw it coming and no one really picked up on any signs.

"When it happened so suddenly, you just wished that maybe they'd reached out to someone a bit more."

One in four young Australians aged 16 to 24 have a mental health condition and suicide is the leading cause of death amongst this group.

The suicides had a wide reaching impact in the regional Territory town.

Dylan felt something had to be done.

"I definitely felt we needed to try and especially help the young fellas in Katherine realise there is help out there and how to get to it."

So Dylan gathered the troops - teammates, community members and Red Cross.

Meg Geritz, Red Cross regional manager, says Dylan's idea of Mental Mates was to ensure at least two people in every sporting organisation in Katherine had developed the skills through training to be able to respond to people in crisis.

"Because at two o'clock in the morning, who's there? It's not the service organisations, it's your mates."

As Dylan says, many people aren't willing to get professional help in the first instance, but a supportive mate could go a long way in getting them help.

Mental Health First Aid Facilitator Stanley Law says he talks about hard subjects that have never been really spoken about before.

"We help people understand mental health and how to find help as well as talking about myths around these issues.

"Participants are given the tools needed to help people with a mental health issues and a list of contacts crises line contacts," Stanley says.

The focus was initially on sporting clubs, to make it known to the team which members were trained in mental health support. People now travel from across the NT to attend the training and take their valuable new skills back home to support their community.

Red Cross has been running the two-day Mental Health First Aid training course for a year, working with Dylan and the community to highlight the importance of the program.

The training is free so it's accessible to everyone in the community.

Dylan's determination to be there for his mates and support others has seen over 100 people in Katherine complete the mental health training. His work has been honoured by the community with Citizen of the Year on Australia Day.

"I suppose we'll never know where they were at," laments Dylan about the death of his friends.

"That's the idea around Mental Mates. So that everyone has a mate who can even pick up on the littlest signs and can confidently ask them if they're okay."

Would you like the skills to help support people with mental health problems? Enrol in our Mental Health First Aid course today or download our free First Aid app.