Blue trees give hope

Syan DoughertyToday Tonight
VideoThe wonder in the Wheatbelt, why locals are painting trees blue.

Residents of a small town in WA’s Wheatbelt have turned a tale of tragedy into a powerful message of hope, with just a few licks of blue paint.

People in Mukinbudin, 300km east of Perth, have painted scores of dead trees blue to raise awareness about mental health.

The Blue Tree Project was inspired by much-loved local Jayden Whyte, who, aged 29, took his own life on November 12, 2018, after moving to Sydney for work.

His mum and sister Kendall flew to Sydney to support Jayden after he had admitted himself to hospital. When they arrived they couldn’t find him, so reported him missing to police.

It was then revealed he’d checked himself into hospital a second time, fearing he would harm himself, only to be released again.

Later that night, he tragically took his life. The Whytes were just hours too late.

After his death the blue tree took on a new purpose: “Spread the paint and spread the message that it’s OK to not be OK.”

What started as practical joke by Jayden five years ago is now the centrepiece of the campaign.

“(Jayden and his friend Tjarda) snuck out in the middle of the night with paintbrushes and blue paint and set off to attack this poor dead tree and give it a bit more life,” sisters Kendall and Erryn explained.

“It’s just this idea that caught on and then everyone wanted to paint trees blue.”

The first to follow suit was best friend, Simon Comerford, who was one of hundreds to hear the story of the blue tree at Jayden’s funeral.

“I came out the farm one day and just thought ‘I’m going to go out on the four-wheeler and find the best tree I can find — the biggest, baddest tree — and just paint it in his honour’,” Mr Comerford said.

“It was a really cathartic experience for me and I didn’t realise it would take off like it did.”

A short time later, Mr Comerford posted a picture on Facebook and watched his work go viral.

“It got to 2000 likes and I couldn’t believe it, then all of a sudden it was at 58,000 likes. It was overwhelming but just really nice,” he said.

“I think Jayden would’ve loved all this — he loved big projects like this. He had such a great mind and he really would’ve enjoyed knowing that we could do something like this out of something so dark.”

The post has since grown into a movement, with people in WA, Queensland, NSW and the UK painting trees blue in the name of mental health.

Only dead trees were coloured with eco-friendly paint and supporters are careful to refer people who contact them to appropriate mental health services.

“I feel like we’ve already helped so many people. I’ve had some close friends reach out to me that I don’t think would have otherwise,” Mr Comerford said.

“I think the blue tree is a symbol for hope and that you can talk to somebody and just break down the stigma for mental illness.”

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