4 March 2024

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's a flying mullet! Wollongong goes to great heights for mental health

| Zoe Cartwright
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two men skydiving

Emmett Walsh takes to the skies with his freshly cut mullet to raise funds for the Black Dog Institute. Photo: Skydive Australia.

Some very nervous Illawarra men rocked up to Stuart Park on Friday, 1 March, to get fresh new haircuts – and maybe jump out of a plane.

They weren’t just there for cool styles and cheap thrills, though.

The “hair-raising” event was a collaboration between the Black Dog Institute’s Mullets for Mental Health campaign and Skydive Australia, along with Healthier Illawarra Men, to raise funds for, and awareness of, mental health.

Emmett Walsh, from the Gong Mullet Mission, has been rocking the style for the past three years, but this was his first time jumping out of a plane.

He was inspired to take part by his own mental health battles, after bullying in his teenage years was so traumatic he tried to take his own life.

With the support of his parents and mental health professionals, Emmett has developed the tools to foster his own mental wellbeing, and now he wants to give back.

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“I bottled up all my emotions and didn’t tell anyone about it, and that took me to a place where I didn’t want to be here,” he said.

“Mullets for Mental Health is a super-fun initiative and a way to show you’re all ears for mental health, that it is OK not to be OK and there is help available.

“Having the mullet shows people you’re open to those conversations, and fundraising helps make those resources more accessible.

“Everyone deserves access to a psychologist and mental health resources, and we still have a long way to go, but for every Aussie to have access to affordable mental health support, that’s the dream.”

Mental health advocate and deputy chair of Healthier Illawarra men, Toby Dawson, has been skydiving twice before – enough to know the nerves set in as soon as the plane takes off.

He said that fear was part of what made the experience so powerful.

“Healthier Illawarra Men are massive advocates for anything that positively impacts the health of men in our community,” he said.

“Skydive Australia has massively supported us in our community fundraisers over the years so when they got in touch it was a no-brainer.

“I’ve gone through my own mental health battles, and rising above fear, coming together and supporting each other, we can truly drive change.”

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Evan Jackson, from the Black Dog Institute, said mental health was a key issue for Australians, and despite nine people in Australia dying by suicide each day, more than 50 per cent of people living with mental illness would not seek professional help.

The Mullets for Mental Health campaign was created during COVID, and Evan said in addition to their passion for mental health, organisers weren’t above a good pun.

“It’s turning a lot of heads, we think it’s one of the most fun campaigns out there,” he said.

“We’re all about research at the front and action at the back, so funds raised through the Mullets for Mental Health campaign will go to education, implementation and suicide prevention programs.

“Skydiving is a great leap forward – we love the flow of the mullets flying through the air and we thought this was a great opportunity to show we’re brave enough to wear an iconic Australian haircut, brave enough to jump out of a plane and brave enough to have conversations about mental health.”

Brooke Robson, from Skydive Australia, said it wasn’t the first time the company had partnered with the Black Dog Institute.

She said for those who loved the sport, it could be a profound way to overcome their fears and experience a positive, natural high.

“Most people think of skydiving as a big scary activity, but for us it’s a way to alleviate stress and beat anxiety,” she said.

“If you can jump out of a plane, you can do anything.”

The annual Mullets for Mental Health national virtual challenge helps raise funds for Black Dog Institute’s crucial mental health research and support services in Australia.

Since 2020, more than 30,000 participants have grown mullets and raised close to $12 million to support the institute’s groundbreaking research.

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