Recently Pauline and her husband Hilton have moved from the family property, “Whiterock”, to “Dalmore”, outside Scone in the Upper Hunter. She longs to weed and mulch the garden to prepare for the white roses that will line the path to the front door. Her ability to do this is compromised, however, because she’s on a mission.
On Christmas Day, 2015, Pauline and Hilton’s son, Will, committed suicide.
Will, 24, was successfully running his own electrical business, he had bought a home, he had a loving partner and he was cherished by his large extended family. There was – and is − no explanation.
The Carrigan family paid tribute to Will during his funeral Mass, buried him with love and tried to imagine life without him. Pauline talks easily about her youngest and says that now when she thinks of him, she’s more likely to smile than cry.
“Will was fun, he was normal, he was our baby. He was a larrikin, often in ways that made others feel comfortable. He loved sport. He was very special to us and he held a huge position in this family. He could turn his hand to anything. He hated school, although St Greg’s at Campbelltown was good for him − because he could play lots of sport.
I often wish he could see himself through our eyes − maybe that was his struggle? Since Will died, each of us carries a burden.”
Pauline’s grief manifested itself in a deep need to research mental health issues and suicide. What she learned propelled her to action, and since Will’s death, she and her sister, Kathy Burns, have co-founded “Where there’s a Will”, a registered charity that focuses strongly on developing in young people the skills and qualities that promote good mental health. Pauline describes “Where there’s a Will” as “a hub − we’re looking for the best of the best and bringing it here”.
It says a great deal about the Carrigans that others who shared their need to do something quickly came on board. Pauline’s sisters, Mary McPhee and Kathy, are deeply committed and Kathy is treasurer. The chair of “Where there’s a Will” is local entrepreneur Jason Brooks. He admits that not a day goes by that he doesn’t think of Will, and as a father of three sons, the issues are very real for him. “If you can find a more inspirational person than Pauline Carrigan, I’d like to meet them.
“The fundraising’s been easy because people want to help. I’m really proud of our community and I’m super proud of these guys. I’ve actually seen the change in people – they’re showing more compassion – it’s changed the community for the better.
“I’d like to think that so far, we’ve helped a lot of people. We’ve made a difference.” Jason admits that he’s “a bottom line bloke” and it’s hard to measure the bottom line with “Where there’s a Will”. However, over $250,000 have been raised and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence – often gained over shopping trolleys and petrol bowsers – that the organisation has sparked conversations that needed to happen.
A significant partnership’s been formed with Positive Education Schools Association (PESA), the vision of which is “To lead and promote the science of wellbeing and positive psychology, enabling all students, schools and communities to flourish.” This partnership highlights the fact that “Where there’s a Will” aligns with organisations with programs that promote good mental health. Pauline says, “Research tells me that the foundations for young men to suffer mental health problems are laid when they’re around 12-14 yeasr old. This means we absolutely have to get into our primary schools and make sure our teachers are given training to ensure our kids are resilient enough to bounce back from the challenges that they will inevitably face in life.”
Most schools in the Upper Hunter have signed on to the Positive Education strategies, including St Joseph’s High School, Aberdeen and St Mary’s Primary, Scone; St James’ Primary, Muswellbrook; St Joseph’s Primary, Denman and St Joseph’s Primary, Merriwa.
Previously schools were offering wellbeing programs but with the help of “Where there’s a Will”, they have more funding and the strength of a collaborative school voice.
The logo of “Where there’s a Will” has evolved into a flourishing tree with a rainbow wash, capturing the tagline, “Bringing colour to lives.” A simple exercise that brings this to life occurs regularly at St Mary’, Scone. The children are invited to choose a colour from a wall that represents how they feel and to explain briefly. They learn that ‘how I feel today is not necessarily how I feel tomorrow – or even this afternoon’. That’s a profound lesson.
The committee members who guide the direction of “Where there’s a Will” bring a depth of commitment as well as particular expertise. Louisa Bragg is responsible for branding and marketing and she brought the logo to life. “The tree shows new cycles, laying down roots and continuing to grow. It needed colour and warmth.”
Polly Yuille looks after media and communications, a key task in spreading the message of “Where there’s a Will”.
Pip Baker is the co-ordinator of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) and there is funding for 360 participants to undergo a two-day course with Professor Toni Noble of Australian Catholic University. Significantly, Professor Toni and Rose Pennington are researching the success of the Bounce Back! Program in six Upper Hunter schools over three years. Toni and Rose trained over 100 teachers and will continue to assist.
Andrea Burns is secretary of “Where there’s a Will”. She describes herself as “the one everyone contacts”. Her superb skills in the kitchen help to fuel a hardworking team!
Daryl Dutton co-ordinates funding and grants and Sarah Carrigan is involved with MHFA. Jane Callinan brings business skills to “Where there’s a Will”.
There is so much more to say, but Pauline should have the last word.
“I’m lucky to have my faith and I don’t know what I’d do without it. I keep busy, and pray; otherwise I’d be in deep trouble.
“This work has to be done. I can’t let go of it yet. My children say, ‘Mum, you’ve done enough’ but this work brings positive energy. If I was gardening, I would be crying all the time. I’m doing what I feel called to do.”