Maddie Gay, 27, is about to hike her way to the top of six mountains, and she’s “equal parts excited and terrified”.
She is undertaking the feat with her 23-year-old brother, Will, to get Australians talking about suicide prevention and to raise $250,000 for Lifeline’s crisis support services. It is a cause close to the siblings’ heart as their father, Tony, took his own life in 2009.
Like all brilliant ideas, the plan to clamber to a bunch of the world’s peaks was fleshed out over family beers at the pub. Together Maddie, Will and their mother Pattianne came up with a schedule that will see these siblings from Boorowa, NSW climb six mountains, in five countries, on four continents, over 3 months, as two people with one goal: zero suicides. They have dubbed the initiative 6NIL and officially embarked on the adventure on World Suicide Prevention Day on 10 September, 2015.
“The whole point of us doing this is to be open and show people that you can have conversations about suicide and it’s ok,” Maddie explains.
“There is so much stigma about suicide. In the year after Dad’s death, people were happy to talk about Dad but not about the way he died.
“In regional communities, it’s an even bigger issue. I think the reason for that is that they’re really small communities and people know everyone. There is an incorrect view that by being honest about the fact you’re struggling means that you can’t cope at all. I think that’s really true specifically for men and farming communities.”
Maddie’s frustration with this attitude and her desire to “do something big and attention grabbing” about suicide prevention led to the birth of 6NIL in May 2014. Maddie and Will have spent the time leading up to their departure fundraising for Lifeline and sharing their lived experience of their father’s suicide with the media and communities around NSW. The pair have raised $120,000 thus far.
“Every time we finish a speaking gig, we have strangers coming up and opening up about their own experiences of suicide or depression and being really honest. I think that’s the most valuable thing, seeing that being open can really help other people. You instantly have common ground with someone and they know they can come and talk to you,” Maddie says.
“It can save people’s lives.”
Having a project to focus on has helped Maddie personally.
“6NIL has been helpful because we’re making something positive out of something that is inconceivably sh*t. It has shown us that even in something so horrible, there’s a light. It has been nice to honour Dad in that way. His story is something we can hold up and say ‘this can’t happen again, it hasn’t happened in vain’.
“He was an incredible dad despite the dark things that were happening in his mind, and I think remembering that is so important. We’re not blocking his death and we try to accept that part, but we focus more on his life.”
Maddie knows that climbing those mountains – Mt. Kinablu, Machu Picchu, Mt. Meru, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt Cook and Kosciuszko – is going to be more than a physical feat.
“Emotionally I think it’s going to bring up a lot, it’s going to be hard.
“The last 18 months of my life has been really intense and full on and sometimes overwhelming, because that part of your life [about Dad’s death] is at the surface all the time. It’s been 18 months of planning and it’s constantly on your mind.
“I’m really glad to do it and I’ll also be glad when it’s done. I think the last mountain will be a form of closure. ‘OK, we’ve done that great thing. Now we can go on…’”.