by Peter Baines, Founder and Director of International Operations, Hands Across the Water
With World Mental Health Day occurring only a few days prior to the 20th anniversary of the Bali Bombings, I pause to consider the impact that the event had on so many people. There are those who were in Bali at the time and lost members of their family, of their footy team, of their circle of friends, and those working in the bars and surrounding businesses to support their families. It was a cowardly and unprovoked attack on innocent people who were considered an easy and soft target by those who delivered their evil on the night of the 12th of October 2002.
With the anniversary approaching the stories of the lives lost, lives saved and lives forever changed is told. The feats of those who remained by the side of their maimed friends who clung to life, the stories of those who rushed to the site to assist and the stories of people such as Dr Fiona Wood who gave so many a chance when others did not. These are the stories told and no doubt we can never understand their journey unless we too were with them.
In the days that followed the bombings I was invited by the Australian Federal Police to contribute to the forensic work that was being undertaken to identify those who perpetrated such evil and identify the 202 victims from the bombings. I would work shoulder to shoulder with colleagues from across Australia and then just over two years later I would again be reunited with many of those colleagues when we plied our trade in Thailand, this time on a scale which seemed unthinkable with some 5395 victims. Thailand was a humanitarian response which in someway made it much more understandable and acceptable.
As the memorials and archive news footage emerges of the Bombings I see colleagues within the crime scene that was the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar. I can visualise those scenes today with great clarity, the scale, the loss, the bodies and the senselessness of it all remains clear. We’ve all accumulated a few extra kilos and the wrinkles of time are spread across our faces a bit more these days than the images of twenty years ago portray, but I would suggest for the majority of us who were there the memories don’t fade, they are just spoken about less frequently.
As I think of those who lost so much a little more today and this week, I also think of those who boarded the planes to both Bali and Thailand filled with a skill set and a desire to do what we were trained to do. Many paid a price for the work that we did, it mightn’t have been obvious and it might not have been immediate, but I would suggest a toll was paid by those who left our shores to simply do their job and to provide answers to families.
The scars that many carry from their time simply doing their job are not always the obvious ones. Perhaps it’s triggers that are unknown to those closest or perhaps it’s when the music stops and the silence fills the space that our minds go to places we would prefer not.
In the years that have passed since Bali and Thailand we have got better as a society of talking about and responding to mental health issues. We also know that it doesn’t need to be as epic as an international crisis or disaster for us to carry a burden that is often reduced a little when we share. I’ve never subscribed to the notion of putting aside your issues based on the fact there is someone dealing wth something that might be bigger. Our issues, our loss, is indeed our loss and whatever that is when we own that we can manage it.
Today on World Health Day you might choose to reach out to someone and ask how they are going and then importantly, listen. You might choose to make a phone call yourself and declare your struggles or you might choose to take action that simply brightens your day.
Personally, today I will find gratitude in the life I get to live, those I get to share it with and the positive experiences we create.
We can’t change what’s happened, but we can all change what happens next and perhaps World Mental Health Day is the day you decide to change what happens next.