SYDNEY (Reuters) – At a time of increasing loneliness, an Australian mental health support group has swapped the sand of Bondi Beach for home computers during Australia’s coronavirus lockdown, turning its message of social connection to a global audience.
Members of the group OneWave, which hosted Britain’s Prince Harry and his wife Meghan on their Australian tour, still meet at dawn for their weekly Fluro Friday sessions, named for the bright, fluroescent clothes people wear to be upbeat.
But now the talk is online since Australia closed its beaches and curbed travel to curb the coronavirus.
“Every week we dress in the brightest outfits we can to make mental health more visible, also bright colours make people happy,” founder Grant Trebilco told Reuters.
“One thing people need right now is connection and one thing people need is to know they’re not alone.”
Harry, who is open about his own struggle with mental health, and Meghan joined the circle when it met on Bondi Beach during their 2018 visit to Australia.
Fluro Friday sessions take place on about 200 beaches in 40 countries, but for now, most participants can only talk to each other over the internet about how they are coping in isolation.
Trebilco chairs the Bondi call from his native New Zealand where he is staying with his family until he can return to Australia.
Eight years ago, Trebilco was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and hospitalised in a mental health facility.
Thinking his life was over and finding himself unable to cope, he did the one thing that brought him happiness: he went surfing.
Trebilco said his “salt-water therapy” is where he finds his “happy place” and, hoping to find a way to share this discovery with others, he donned a fluorescent suit one Friday morning when getting ready to surf. Fluro Friday was born.
Reporting by Jill Gralow in Sydney. Writing by Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Robert Birsel