Lilith Dewsbery has set a goal to swim 100km throughout March as part of Laps For Life, an annual fundraising event to raise money for ReachOut Australia and heighten awareness of mental health support for young people.
This is the first year Ms Dewsbery has taken part in Laps For Life, and says the reason she’s doing it is because she wishes an organisation like ReachOut existed when she was younger and growing up.
“When I was a teenager, there was almost no such thing as mental health support,” she told us.
“If you had a mental illness of any kind, you were dubbed crazy. If you were depressed, you were dubbed a miserable person no one wanted to hang out with. If you were sad enough to actually cry, you were a sook. If you were anxious about something you were a coward. And if you were suicidal, you were a crazy coward. And that’s as far as the support went. It was non-existent.
“If you had a problem and you tried to talk to somebody, you were a whinger and a complainer and it just made it worse, made everyone bottle everything up now. All the stigmas and the stereotypes made everything so much worse. And in a smaller town like this where you get to see everything and everything affects you and you witness this sort of thing or experience it for yourself, then there was no one to turn to.
“It wasn’t just a Broken Hill problem, it was an Australia-wide problem, and a cultural thing from back then. I’m 50 years old now so it was quite some time ago, but there’s still a lot of stigma about that.
“I think ReachOut Australia is really important for the youth of today because it’s something they can access in their own time, on their own terms without suffering all that stigma of ‘oh, there’s something wrong with you if you’re seeking help’. There’s not anything wrong with you, if you’re seeking help. In fact, I’ve learned the hard way that seeking help is not only not crazy and not cowardly, but it’s actually the most courageous, brave, smartest and most sane thing that someone could do.”
On the swim, Ms Dewsvery hopes to spend as many hours as she can at the Broken Hill Aquatic Centre, making progress on her distance – her original goal was 50km – and at the same time, hoping her fundraising effort increases too.
“People need to be aware that ReachOut is there of course, and ReachOut needs money to operate. My fundraising goal’s only $1000. It’s not a huge amount – it’s more than I can afford myself. But, I can do the swimming, that’s the one thing that I can do,” she said.
“But what appealed to me with the swimming – sadly, when I was a teenager growing up, I found that sexual harassment, sexual assault and general violence and alcohol problems were rampant in Broken Hill – and I found that swimming was an escape for me.
“If I went to the pool and swum laps, I’d be left alone. And so that was what made me a distance swimmer. I’ve never been much good for swims of speed. Jump in and give you a race, someone else is going to win, not me, but I can swim kilometre after kilometre like a little robot up and down the pool.
“I haven’t been swimming for quite some time, and I jumped in and did a few practice sessions before the event came around. But I surprised myself. I didn’t realise I could still swim six kilometres. I used to be able to do more than that, and just being able to do one kilometre was a warmup, 10 kilometres was a decent swim. But yeah, apparently I still can swim.”
To donate to Ms Dewsbery’s Laps For Life fundraiser and to see her progress throughout the month, visit https://www.lapsforlife.com.au/fundraisers/lilithdewsbery/.