Australian of the Year: Mitchell Ford, mental health ambassador #AOTY2020

November 2nd, 2016. I was in America on exchange. One morning I woke up to a text from a really old
friend of mine and that text said ‘Hey, Mitch, I’m not sure if
you know yet but Toah suicided on Sunday. He passed away last night in hospital.’ And I just started to cry uncontrollably. But I continued to have a conversation with this
old friend of mine that broke the news to me. And it read as such that, I asked, I said, ‘Did you know what was going on? Did you know if
anything was wrong?’ and she said ‘No, he always seemed happy on Facebook and Instagram. He always seemed like he was having fun and that
he was having a good time and happy in life.’ That’s why it was so devastating because he was a
person that, he was a person that would always try and make
everyone else happy and spread as much kindness as he could. And his smile
was infectious. And I think that kind of really sums up the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide is that people are getting so good at putting on a
mask. And that’s why it’s so devastating when someone
takes their life because they feel there’s no end to the darkness,
that there’s no way to escape the pain. Other than that. Two years after Toah passed away I was looking for a way to make a difference to do
what I can to stop losing another friend. So I decided to start a clothing apparel called
prevention apparel, to help raise awareness and money for the
importance of mental health and suicide prevention. I wanted this to be something that I could design
as a youth, as a young person, for young people because that is who I wanted to target. Because I
lost my best friend when he was 17. I was 16. By the time I was 19 I’ve lost four
more. One was 14, one was 18, almost 19. So, I wanted to do something as relevant to youth
as I could. Something that was stylish, something that people
could wear out. When someone follows, likes a page, wears a shirt, it’s because it means something to them. They are owning their scars, their brokenness, to
help them deal and then help spread that conversation around
mental health and suicide.

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