The poignant message behind blue trees

The Blue Tree Project aims to spread the message 'it's ok to not be ok'

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The tree Barmedman residents, Sharee and Graeme Stewart painted. The Blue Tree Project started in WA but has now spread to nearly every state in Australia. Photo Shantelle Stephens.

The tree Barmedman residents, Sharee and Graeme Stewart painted. The Blue Tree Project started in WA but has now spread to nearly every state in Australia. Photo Shantelle Stephens.

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Have you seen a blue tree?

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Blue trees are beginning to pop up around the countryside and there is an important and poignant reason behind each one.

The Blue Tree Project was inspired by Jayden Whyte, who along with a friend, one night decided to paint a tree blue at his family's farm in Mukinbudin, Western Australia, wondering how long it would be before anyone noticed.

Devastatingly this story of mischief and friendship was one told at his funeral in November last year.

Unbeknownst to his family and friends, Jayden was dealing with significant mental health issues.

Jayden's family, including sister Kendall, decided to start The Blue Tree Project in January to spread hope and let people know 'it's ok to not be ok'.

"It was shared online and then it sort of went viral, people from around Australia started painting trees blue," Kendall said.

Kendall Whyte started The Blue Tree Project in memory of her brother Jayden. Photo supplied.

Kendall Whyte started The Blue Tree Project in memory of her brother Jayden. Photo supplied.

"It happened really organically and I think it's just because it's resonated with so many people.

"For those who know about it, I hope it acts as a visual reminder but also a beacon of hope for those that are struggling.

"It shows that we care, those people matter to us so we really want them to get the help that they need if they're going through a tough time."

Kendall believes there are now close to 300 trees painted blue in nearly all states of Australia and even overseas, with many getting involved in the project last week for R U OK Day.

She said some trees have been painted by individuals, dedicating the tree to a loved one, but others have been whole community projects, undertaken to create a safe environment for people to speak out about their mental health battles.

Others have come up with their own interpretations of the project when they don't have access to a dead tree to paint.

Owners of the Barmedman General Store and Post Office, Steve Raine and Linda Muirhead decided to paint some branches blue and put them at the front of their store for R U OK Day.

"We're a very small community and drought effected so the more awareness you can bring to mental health the better," Linda said.

Owners of the Barmedman General Store and Post Office, Steve Raine and Linda Muirhead did their own interpretation of The Blue Tree Project outside their store. Photo supplied.

Owners of the Barmedman General Store and Post Office, Steve Raine and Linda Muirhead did their own interpretation of The Blue Tree Project outside their store. Photo supplied.

They were inspired by other Barmedman residents, Sharee and Graeme Stewart who were the first in the district to paint a tree.

Sharee said she saw a blue tree on her way to Young one day and googled what they meant.

"All this information came up about the Blue Tree Project and I said to Graeme, my husband, we have to find a tree," Sharee said.

"We had one painted within a week.

"I think if one person sees that tree and it makes them think, then it's worth it."

Kendall said the project had been particularly embraced by regional communities.

"In our regional areas, it can be very isolating and the services are often not as available so unfortunately the suicide rates are higher," Kendall said.

It's something the Barmedman community is acutely aware of.

Steve said they're looking to turn a vacant shop into a Wellness Centre to give a space to the visiting health services they're hoping to attract.

"We hope we can get some counsellors, aged care facilities, get some services into town," Steve said.

"At the moment if someone does feel they need to have a chat with someone, they need to go 30-40 kilometres into Temora or West Wyalong or even all the way to Wagga."

Kendall said she's thrilled the project is having such a wide impact and is helping to spread Jayden's legacy.

"Every time we see a blue tree I just imagine his cheeky smile," Kendall said.

You can find more information on The Blue Tree project on Facebook or the website, www.bluetreeproject.com.au.

If you or someone you know needs help, call:

Lifeline on 13 11 14

Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36

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