When Eden O’Leary lost her brother, Reid, to suicide last year, the 21-year-old Hawkes Bay native drew close to her family to find a way through. Together with her parents and sister, she decided that sharing her family’s loss and starting a kōrero about mental health would be their way of honouring Reid’s life and legacy.
Reid and Eden were only 16 months apart in age, and were extremely close. Since Reid passed away, Eden and her family have been vocal advocates in their Hawkes Bay community, and around Aotearoa, for the importance of having a kōrero about mental health - even organising a 5k fundraiser run earlier this year: Run for Reido.
“Even though we’re going through such a hard time, we’d hate to see anyone else go through it. We’re very open, we like to be raw and real. So many people just sweep it under the rug, and that’s where the stigma and the struggle is, where suicide isn’t talked about as often.”
“In February , I had this weird idea that I wanted to fundraise money. So I set my goal to a thousand dollars. Thinking oh, you know, my friends and family will donate. And then in the first 24 hours, it got to $10,000. I was like, oh, okay.”
Eden’s Run for Reido initiative ended up raising $24,000 for the Mental Health Foundation. However, it wasn’t just the money raised for mental health that was impressive, it was also the opportunity the run created for honest kōrero.
“It was incredible. We did it on Reid’s birthday, which is the 29th of March. We had about a hundred people running with us.”
“People ran, people walked and people talked and shared their experiences. We talked about Reid, and we talked about other people’s health and what we could do.”
Since the run, and with the launch of an Instagram account dedicated to her brother (@earthly_edenwillow), Eden often has people reach out to her to share their own experiences with mental health or the challenges of those close to them.
“All of a sudden people are coming and telling me how they’ve been through hardships, or their family, like losing someone to suicide.”
To help support her, Eden relies heavily on her closest circle of loved ones.
“I have a little go-to group: my mum, my dad and my sister, my boyfriend and my best friend.”
“Ever since Reid - we’ve always been a really close family, but we’ve grown so much closer. I couldn’t have done this without my sister, my mum and my dad.”
Eden has noticed major changes particularly in her dad’s approach to expressing emotions.
“Dad wasn’t one to talk much, but now it’s really nice to see him express his emotions as well. There is a change from when he was growing up - the ‘boys don’t cry’ [mentality]. Ever since Reid, he’s taken a real stance on making all his friends talk.”
Eden’s dad now helps to run Sunday walks for men in their community, an initiative first started by the men’s mental health group For All The Brothers. These walks are an opportunity for men to open up about how they’re feeling, check-in on their mates, and just generally start to shift the attitudes towards men expressing emotion.
“Reid was the blokey-bloke, always around his mates. His friends always go along [to thewalk], and it’s really cool to see them, because I know they’ve suffered a lot, and it’s nice that you know they’re talking to someone.”
Reid’s passing also prompted Eden to be more open about her own mental health challenges.
“For the last four and a half to five years I’ve had my own struggles with anxiety and depression. And I kept it pretty low key because no one really talked about that. And then ever since Reid I’ve realised how important it is to be open about it and talk to people.”
“It's just about surrounding myself with people who actually care about me. If you're around people that are just there to be ‘there’, you don't feel a sense of safety. So it's really nice to be around people that care about you.”
“I also go to therapy - I think therapy is just outstanding. I want it funded for everyone. Everyone needs to go. Being able to talk to someone who doesn’t have a biased opinion is really amazing.”
Ultimately, losing Reid is something that will always be a part of Eden and her family. They believe in being open and real - which also includes acknowledging that their hurt and grief isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“A lot of people do just see us on our good days, but 75% of the time we’re having a shit day and still going through it. We don’t know what we’re doing. At the end of the day, we’re just a family, but we do like to put our energy into spreading positivity and going out to make everyone feel better. Because we know what the hurt feels like.”
“Support systems and helplines are a big thing. All the people you can talk to in your support system know you, and then the helpline can have a non-biased conversation and talk you through other things. And they’re trained as well, which is such a big thing.“
Looking ahead, there’s a lot in the works for Eden and her family. She’s planning a bigger Run for Reido for his birthday next year, and she’s about to study psychology, with plans to pursue a career in mental health.
At the heart of everything is the memory of her brother Reid - a memory which has inspired her, her family, and so many others to stand up and be vocal about mental health, and the importance of reaching out for help - and being there to give help to those who need it.
“So many people are going through what you’re going through, and they feel the exact same - it just takes one person to spark the conversation.“