How the Beyond Blue community van supports mental health and wellbeing

With the support of Australia Post, the Beyond Blue community van is out at events helping people connect to mental health support services. Beyond Blue’s Events Manager shares three ways Buddy helps communities.

When the Beyond Blue community van hits the road, communities enjoy saying hello and learning more about Beyond Blue’s mental health support services.

The van, also known as Buddy, has an important job. Led by a team of Beyond Blue staff and volunteers, and supported by Australia Post, it attends events and delivers mental health and wellbeing information and resources to metro and regional communities around the country.

The Beyond Blue team are particularly focused on reaching those that need further support, including the LGBTQI+ community, people living in regional locations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

In Buddy’s first year on the road, they are pleased to have reached more than 170,000 people.

The importance of being out in the community

Beyond Blue’s aim is to provide the information and support that helps people achieve their best possible mental health.

Sometimes that means people reach out to their phone or online support services, but for others this is a difficult step. This is why Beyond Blue’s community events program, and Buddy the van, are providing important opportunities to connect face-to-face in the community.

While the past year has proved challenging with so many of us physically separated, Australia Post and Beyond Blue know that reconnecting is critical for the recovery of our communities in the months and years ahead. Sam Walker, Beyond Blue Events Manager, regularly sees the benefits of going out to the people when he was with Buddy at a regional event.

“A husband and wife saw the Beyond Blue van while I was driving it through town,” he says. “They weren’t involved with the event, but the wife came over and asked me if I’d mind talking with her husband. I spoke with this man for about an hour, and he shared with me that he was struggling with everything,” Sam says.

Seeing Buddy drive through town had prompted this couple to seek support in a way that felt manageable to them. “It triggered them to take action, have a conversation and get some help,” Sam says, “and that really highlights the importance of Beyond Blue and the difference we can make by being out in the community.”

It also highlights the benefit of having this type of resource at events. The team sets up a table of resources outside, as well as a series of games and competitions happening to help people engage with Beyond Blue, but the van offers a more personalised service behind the scenes. “If someone wants to have a difficult or private conversation about their mental health and wellbeing, we can bring them inside the van. It’s a private space to have a conversation or help someone who might be in distress,” Sam says.

Learning how to have tough conversations

The most common question the Beyond Blue team experience when out with Buddy is, ‘How can I talk to someone in my life about their mental health?’

“Most of the chats we have are people worried about friends and family, so we talk about how to start a conversation. A lot of people don’t know what to say,” says Sam.

“What we say is that the earlier people can take action, the more likely they are to stop their mental health challenges getting to a critical stage. Those early steps can include talking to a friend or family member, going to their GP, or calling the Beyond Blue support service.”

Sam says that learning how to help others, including those in his own life, has been something he’s enjoyed in his 12 years working with Beyond Blue.

“When I joined, I didn’t have a mental health background,” he says, “but since I’ve been here, people in my life are now coming and chatting to me about their mental health issues. I’m more aware and seeing the signs in people now.”

Stories of thanks are a highlight for Buddy’s team

People often approach Buddy the Beyond Blue community van ready to share stories of gratitude for the support they’ve received.

Sam says that, while out with Buddy at an event, one man came up to him to say thanks. “He and his family were new arrivals to Australia, and a Beyond Blue Speaker had been out to speak to the school his son attended. The son had taken one of the resources, not thinking much of it. Then he started noticing some signs that his dad wasn’t well, and he was able to suggest that his dad call Beyond Blue. This man was thanking me, saying that we’d saved his life just by being at the school that day.”

Beyond Blue have big plans for continuing to get out into communities over the coming years. With connection being a focus of helping communities recover and build resilience after recent pandemic challenges, life is becoming busier for Buddy. “Now that Australia’s opening up again and events are back on, we’re trying to get Buddy out to as many events as possible,” says Sam.

“We’re especially keen to get Buddy into the Sydney Mardi Gras parade. We’d love to get Buddy all dolle