Last month, WA police officers Jason Barnes and Rob Seaman embarked on a five-day journey from Northam to Albany to raise awareness of the need to take a proactive approach to mental wellbeing on the frontline, not only for personnel, but the partners and families who stand beside them.

enior Constable Seaman originally came up with the idea for the ride after watching a series on the ABC called “Man Up”. The program was about male suicide and it really got him thinking about problems with mental health.

“It sort of really struck me that the statistics showed people were three times more likely to take their own life than die in a car crash,” Rob told Police News.RideAlongside2

“There is a big focus on car accidents but the prevalence of suicide was much higher and men especially are more affected. The statistics for emergency service workers and defence personnel are even higher again.”

A few years earlier, following a chat with his doctor, Rob adopted a healthier lifestyle. This included more exercise and that is where the bike came in.

“I wanted to go for a long bike ride so those things came together and I knew of Alongside because I had worked with Sarah’s husband previously,” Rob said.

“I needed a reason to do it, I needed the motivation to do it so I approached Alongside and said this is what I want to do and I can use the bike ride to further the cause of Alongside.

Sort of use physical health as a way to improve mental health but also use my bike, which had improved my health to demonstrate the benefits of looking after  yourself.”

Founded in 2015 by Sarah Yates and Paige Hobbs, Alongside was borne from their personal experiences of standing beside their partners serving on the frontline.

Working from a recruit level and at points of need throughout an officer’s career, Alongside operates nationally, providing proactive education programs, transition
and deployment support and a strong social community for partners and families of defence and emergency services personnel.

Originally, Rob was going to tackle the ride on his own however, after conversations with some of his bike riding colleagues, they all jumped on board.

“I spoke to Jason and a few other guys I used to work with who were all into bike riding, and asked if they wanted to come out for a ride for a day. Jason was the first one to jump on and say ‘Nah, nah I’m going to do the whole thing’.

RideAlongside3“Everyone I spoke to was just so positive about it and very receptive and wanting to join in and help anyway they could. There is a lot of groundswell of support out there for our colleagues that are struggling with their mental health.”

Along the way, the ride stopped at every police station between Northam and Albany to talk to police officers as well as other local emergency services. The stops at the stations lasted for between one and two hours and helped to spread the word about Alongside’s services and the importance of good mental health. It also gave the riders a chance to rest.

Even though the riders were spending between four and five hours in the saddle, Rob said the week flew by as they enjoyed the countryside and speaking to their colleagues about positive mental health messages.

“Support from everyone was fantastic, I had this idea to go on a long bike ride on my own and it sort of turned out in the end to be quite large with the number of people we had riding, support people and people coming us to meet us,” he said.

“I wanted to get out to the smaller places which might be out of reach of normal day-to-day services and go to these smaller town where the level of support services is not as good as if you were in the bigger towns or the city.”

While they have only just finished the first ride, planning is already underway for Ride Alongside Two.

“We are just going through whether we do the same journey again, obviously we have built a lot of rapport down that way, or if we head somewhere different to spread the word a bit further and see some different countryside,” he said.

“I’m thinking somewhere slightly different, take in some towns we did this year so we have a bit of familiarity with some of the people but we will explore some new areas as well.”

The ride was made possible because of the support of a number of organisations including WAPU.

“I really want to thank the WA Police Union and the Board for supporting us. We certainly enjoyed the ride and enjoyed getting out there and talking to our colleagues,” Rob said.

By Steven Glover