Content warning: This article discusses mental health and suicide.
1 December 2022: Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise Professor Lucy Johnston officially launched the University of Canberra’s Blue Tree with University staff at a painting ceremony yesterday on campus.
The Blue Tree Project aims to help spark difficult conversations around mental health and encourage people to speak up when they’re struggling. Painting a tree gives it a “blue lease on life” and acts as a loud and positive prompt to check-in with yourself, friends, and family. The University’s Blue Tree is the first in the ACT.
Professor Johnston is delighted to bring the initiative to the University and the Canberra community after coming from Murdoch University in Western Australia, which also has a Blue Tree.
“Mental health battles are not as obvious as something like a blue tree – they’re often hidden deep within us,” said Professor Johnston. “Everyone who sees a tree painted blue wonders why it’s there. It ignites a question, makes you think. And from the initial question, perhaps we can ask others of ourselves and our loved ones: ‘How are you really doing? Are you ok?’”
“I wanted something bold and visible on campus to spark these important conversations. Campus Estate Office was really enthusiastic about this idea, so they quickly scoured the campus for an appropriate tree,” she said.
“If this helps one person open up to someone else about their mental health, and inspires them to seek help, it’s worth it.”
The tree is located adjacent to the Ngaladjima Garden near Building 7. University staff and students joined Professor Johnston and Lifeline Canberra CEO Ms Carrie-Ann Leeson in painting a eucalyptus tree with non-toxic, water-based paint in the University’s distinctive blue, covering the trunk in handprints and patterns.
The aim of the initiative is to spread the message that ‘It’s OK to not be OK’, break down the stigma around addressing mental health, and catalyse conversations about mental health that could save lives.
Ms Leeson strongly supports UC’s efforts to continue breaking down mental health stigma and nurturing a culture of reaching out, having tough conversations, and asking for help.
“This couldn’t come at a better time with the festive season approaching. While this is a joyful time for many of us, it also exacerbates feelings of loneliness, sadness, and isolation for others. This is a visual reminder of the services available and what we can do to check-in on ourselves and others,” she said.
“At this time of the year, check-in on yourself, ask how you are really doing and feeling. And if you are ok, ask someone how they’re doing. You will never make it worse by asking ‘Are you ok?’ and it’s not your job to step in and fix things for someone else, but having those feelings validated is often enough for people to find the strength and motivation to do what they need to do to feel better.”
The Blue Tree Project is an international mental health initiative that started in Australia, with 894 other trees registered in Australia, the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia, and more.
Blue Tree Project CEO Kendall Whyte started the initiative in 2019 after her brother, Jayden Whyte, died by suicide in 2018.
In 2014, the siblings had painted a tree on their father’s farm blue with some leftover paint, for a laugh.
If this story raises any concerns for you or a loved one, please reach out to Lifeline at 13 11 14.
Photos taken by David Beach.