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Driving Oz with the Black Dog

ON THE ROAD: Annika, Ziva, Paul, Kirstine and Cooper Roadly, with service dog Luna, in Airlie Beach on their Australian tour to raise awareness of mental health.
ON THE ROAD: Annika, Ziva, Paul, Kirstine and Cooper Roadly, with service dog Luna, in Airlie Beach on their Australian tour to raise awareness of mental health. Jessica Lamb

AFTER 27 years working in the emergency services, Paul Roadly has seen the horrors of humanity - the kind that will keep you up at night.

He has simply been too strong for too long.

Sitting next to Airlie Lagoon last week with his wife Kirstine and three young children by his side, Paul told his story.

The story of why he wanted to kill himself.

And why, 35,000km later, he finds himself sitting in the Whitsundays with a big black dog by his side, and not just one the metaphorical kind.

Paul is currently suffering from severe depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

To support him and raise awareness and funds for mental health, the family packed up and decided to take the trip of a lifetime across the country in a four-wheel drive with an off-road camper to spread their story.

Staying a few days in Proserpine on their journey, the local community has gotten behind the family, with a free stay offered from Gunna Go Caravan Park and a free service from Proserpine's Nissan dealership.

"The number of suicides in the area since the cyclone backs up why our message is so important,” Paul said.

The Roadly family is unique because they have Luna with them, a family pet turned specially-trained Mental Health Assistance Dog to help Paul.

"She responds to triggers, to let Paul know when he needs to remove himself from a situation, or he's at risk of feeling down,” Kirstine said.

"She knows what I'm feeling before I know it myself,” Paul laughed.

"I suffer from terrible night terrors and she will wake me up, she will remove me from crowds and let me know when my energy levels are low.”

With 90,000km to travel in total, the family still has a long way to go.

"I'm not scared to talk to people but it doesn't get any easier, which is why I'm doing this I suppose,” Paul said.

"To let people know it's okay not to be okay, and it's okay to talk about it.

"Our journey has been very moving, it lets you know that even though we were isolated geographically, we are not alone.

"Mental illness is not a weakness and eventually enough is enough and it's more a case of having been strong for too long.

"Everyone has a connection to mental health - be it yourself or someone you know - and there is support for carers as well.

"We want people to know that 100% of what they donate to us goes to the causes we fundraise for.”

It is hard for the Roadly family to put an exact amount on how much they have raised as not everyone donates through their website, but Paul was part of a team that collected $201,000 for Lifeline earlier in the year.

The family's goal is by the end of their trip to raise $100,000 each for the organisation who trains service dogs, mindDog Australia, and Lifeline.

"Both of these organisations are not-for-profit and are in desperate need of more money to help them to continue their great work for the Australian community.”

Lifeline is a non-profit organisation that provides a free, 24-hour telephone crisis support service in Australia.

According to Mindframe, each year, approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness.

Women are more likely than men to seek help for anxiety disorders (18% compared with 11%) and mood disorders (7.1% compared with 5.3%).

A national survey showed that 35% of people with a mental disorder had used a health service and 29% consulted a GP within the 12 months before the survey.

Women are more likely than men to use services for mental health problems.

To hear more about Paul's story, or to donate to Lifeline Australia or mindDog Australia, visit his website drivingozblackdog.com

If you or someone you care about is in crisis or needs support right now, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, chat online to lifeline at www.lifeline.org.au or the Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.

Young people aged 5 to 25 years can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Topics:  airlie beach anxiety cyclone depression driving oz with the black dog gonna go caravan park lifeline mental health minddog nissan paul roadly proserpine ptsd whitsundays


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