The Dunedin student confronting NZ's 'massive' mental health problem

Aidan Barbour-Ryan is running 365 days in a row to give a voice to those with mental health issues.
Aidan Barbour-Ryan is running 365 days in a row to give a voice to those with mental health issues. Photo credit: Aidan Barbour-Ryan

An Otago University student has pledged to run every day for a year to raise money for a suicide prevention organisation and shine a light on the mental benefits of exercise.

Aidan Barbour-Ryan initially set out to challenge himself, but developed his idea further after wanting to help people around him who are struggling.

"I know so many people who have either dealt with mental health problems or are currently dealing with them," he told Newshub.

"It's such a massive problem here in New Zealand, and I don't feel there is enough open communication around it. 

"It really needs to be talked about more and people need to know that they can talk."

The 20-year-old has seen first-hand how the 'she'll be right' culture can hurt vulnerable Kiwis, and wants to encourage donations for groups trying to help.

"You kind of just think people will be fine, when the truth is they aren't.

"Learning to listen and talk to how people are feeling mentally isn't something you talk about or really understand too much as a teenager.

"It's hard to communicate something when you don't understand why you feel it yourself." 

The 20-year-old developed his idea further after wanting to do more to help people around him who are significantly struggling.
The 20-year-old developed his idea further after wanting to do more to help people around him who are significantly struggling. Photo credit: Aidan Barbour-Ryan

When Mr Barbour-Ryan was finishing high school he went through a tough stage mentally, feeling overwhelmed by pressure while he worked out what he wanted to do once he graduated.

"I think everyone feels that type of pressure, but it seemed like everyone around me had plans to go to university or something along those lines and I felt very isolated during that time.

"I did find it tough and I felt quite alone quite a bit.

"I didn't really get the right help I needed at school; I kept being told to go into a trade, and that's not the type of person I am - so it was a very frustrating time for me."

Mr Barbour-Ryan's idea began as a personal challenge, initially wanting to run every day for a year after seeing YouTuber Heallah Good taking on a similar self-test.

"After a few weeks, I decided I wanted to do a little bit more and started Run365ForLife.

"I only just started raising money last Monday, and we've already had such great support with over $1500 raised, and so many comments and shares on Facebook."

He has seen first-hand how the 'she'll be right' culture can hurt vulnerable Kiwis.
He has seen first-hand how the 'she'll be right' culture can hurt vulnerable Kiwis. Photo credit: Aidan Barbour-Ryan

The profits raised will go to the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust, founded by Corinda Taylor, who, for the last five years, has worked to spark conversations around the country's worsening suicide statistics and mental health support systems.

She tragically experienced first-hand the trauma of losing a loved one to suicide after her son Ross died in 2013.

She founded the trust to promote strategies to put a stop to people taking their own lives, increase community education and support and offer tactics to those who were bereaved.

Ms Taylor told Newshub that with help and work from others like Mr Barbour-Ryan, change is possible.

"Personally, this means so much to me that a young man the same age as Ross is proudly doing this for suicide prevention.

"This is how we can eliminate stigma and start a healthy conversation around our mental health. Aidan is a role model and we hope that his positive attitude can have a snowball effect.

"We would like to see more young men burst the stigma bubble and infect us all with positivity. Mental health is a dark topic and if we can eliminate old myths and start talking about hope perhaps someone out there will see that it's okay to ask for help.

"Aidan is raising funds for the Life Matters Suicide Prevention Trust but this is so much more than that. He is also raising our profile and spreading that positive message with every footstep on his 365 journey."

Ms Taylor tragically experienced first-hand the trauma of losing a loved one to suicide after her son Ross died in 2013.
Ms Taylor tragically experienced first-hand the trauma of losing a loved one to suicide after her son Ross died in 2013. Photo credit: Corinda Taylor

So far, Mr Barbour-Ryan has completed 85 days of running, covering 399.3km.

"At the moment I'm covering 4.75km a day on average - which, by the end, will bring me to just under 2000km. I'm very confident I'll be able to get over 2000km and that's a goal of mine," he said.

"To keep it interesting, I explore as much as possible. I have so far to go so I want to keep it exciting for myself and others along the way."

His journeys around Dunedin include running at Aromoana Beach, where he catches a glimpse of beautiful views early in the mornings, and venturing up Summit Hill Rd during sunset.

"I've played sport ever since I could walk and was after that next challenge. I usually run down by the harbour in Dunedin where the views are nice, but I try to mix it up."

The university student uses his Instagram as a platform to keep others updated of his runs, and hopes others will be inspired to get outdoors for just a small amount of time a day, having experienced first-hand the difference it can make. 

A personal goal that Mr Barbour-Ryan is hoping to achieve is bringing value to people through his running.
A personal goal that Mr Barbour-Ryan is hoping to achieve is bringing value to people through his running. Photo credit: Aidan Barbour-Ryan

"There is always time in your day for exercise... a 10 or 15 or 20-minute run - just getting outside.

"I am in the best mental head space I have ever been in. It's changed my thought process made me a much more positive person."

A personal goal that Mr Barbour-Ryan is hoping to achieve is bringing value to people through his running.

"I want people to see what I do and feel inspired," he explained.

"Those that know me, know that I've never been the biggest fan of running or keeping myself fit despite my love for sport, so this is a massive step for me and it is a real challenge.

"But I want people to see that anything is possible - and anyone can do it, no matter who you are and what sort of lifestyle you live.

"I really think that if you're flooded with positivity continuously it's hard to not want to change or feel that way too - and that's what this is all about, being positive and proactive, being willing to change and stepping out of your comfort zone."

Newshub.

 

He hopes others will be inspired to get outdoors for just a small amount of time a day, having experienced first-hand the difference it can make.
He hopes others will be inspired to get outdoors for just a small amount of time a day, having experienced first-hand the difference it can make. Photo credit: Aidan Barbour-Ryan
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