How to talk about suicide

Veteran gears up for ride of his life

IT BEGAN as a simple project to give Adam Barrett a sense of purpose but rebuilding his Harley-Davidson has grown into a movement, raising awareness for veterans' mental health and saving lives.

Based out of Townsville with 1RAR between 2010 and 2019, Mr Barrett, 33, received a medical discharge and struggled to adjust to civilian life, as many veterans do.

Unable to secure an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, and lacking purpose in his life, Mr Barrett became acutely aware of the personal turmoil which has led former service members to suicide.

Determined to turn his life around, while paying tribute to two mates who committed suicide after suffering PTSD, he set his sights on stripping back and rebuilding his old Harley "Cream Puff".

Townsville army veteran Adam Barrett during the process of rebuilding his Harley chopper.
Townsville army veteran Adam Barrett during the process of rebuilding his Harley chopper.

"I wanted to represent that small community with mental health issues and do it in their name," he said.

"Then I kind of got talked into starting a (social media) page and seeking out someone to film and document the build process, and it kind of took off from there.

"It made me realise that there was a bigger issue with veteran suicide that needed to be spoken about."

Mr Barrett did not want to collect donations, but wanted to use the bike as a conversation starter.

He called the project Popping Smoke - an army term where smoke grenades are used to call for an air extraction - to encourage people to offer help or reach out for help. "It's really just to see how friends are going and giving them a call, or even getting people with mental health issues to seek help themselves," he said.

After he began sharing his journey online, the idea began to resonate with other veterans who started reaching out and having conversations, not only about the build but their struggles.

"I received messages from a bloke who, after seeing my bike, rang up a helpline and tried to help his mental health," Mr Barrett said.

Mr Barrett said out from Townsville on his rebuilt Chopper on Saturday, planning to ride to a motorbike show in Victoria to showcase the bike and continue his conversations with the veteran and motorbike community, then head to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Townsville army veteran Adam Barrett shows off his rebuilt his Harley chopper.
Townsville army veteran Adam Barrett shows off his rebuilt his Harley chopper.

He said there was a push under way to have a sculpture which would acknowledge the loss of siblings, parents or children who paid for their service with physical and mental injuries that they had brought home.

"I know my bike isn't a sculpture but I will take the opportunity to park the bike at the Australian War Memorial to represent soldiers who have physical and mental injuries and push an issue that we need to acknowledge," he said.

Follow his journey here.

Open Arms are Australia's leading national provider of counselling and support services for Australian veterans and their families. 

The veteran community are encouraged to contact their free and confidential helpline by calling 1800 011 046, 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

There is also an anonymous 24/7 support line - Safe Zone Support - which was created to help vulnerable cohorts of veterans and their families who might not otherwise seek mental health care due to concerns about protection of anonymity - including those in the Special Forces. It is accessible by calling 1800 142 072.

Townsville army veteran Adam Barrett leaving Townsville on his way to The Australian War Memorial where he hopes to raise awareness about Veteran Mental Health.
Townsville army veteran Adam Barrett leaving Townsville on his way to The Australian War Memorial where he hopes to raise awareness about Veteran Mental Health.

leighton.smith@news.com.au

Originally published as Veteran gears up for ride of his life