Black Dog Ride founder Steve Andrews has resigned from the mental health charity after facing up to his own issues with depression and anxiety.
In an open letter printed below, Steve says has succumbed after a four-year legal battle to Trade Mark the brand, plus social media criticisms and the deaths of three people on BDR events.
The BDR Board of Directors has expressed its appreciation for Steve’s work which started when he rode solo around Australia in 2009 to raise funds and awareness of mental health issues after the suicide of his mother.
The following year he started the annual ride to the centre of Australia, then one-day rides, a lap of Australia, a trip across America and raised more than $2.2m for mental health charities across the nation.
“Whilst this is a considerable sum, the work of Black Dog Ride stretches past raising money,” a letter form then board says.
“What it has created in the community by way of awareness and understanding is a testament to its success.
“We are sure all those associated with Black Dog Ride join with the Board in thanking Steve for his service and congratulating him for what he has been able to achieve for Black Dog Ride.”
The Board has now appointed Black Dog Ride’s Wangaratta Coordinator Jim Redmond as the interim CEO to manage the planned March 1 Dayer and national Tasmania rides.
Meanwhile, they are looking for a permanent replacement.
Jim says the resignation came as a shock.
He says he took over the position so the 1 Dayer and Tasmanian events would not be cancelled.
Open letter to the Black Dog Ride Family from founder Steve Andrews:
When I embarked on the inaugural Black Dog Ride around Australia in July 2009 I had a simple mission – to raise awareness of depression and suicide prevention. Having lost my Mum and a dear friend to suicide this was a very personal crusade, one I hoped would help prevent others from suffering such tragic loss. I had no idea my 15,000km, 26 day, solo journey would have such an impact on so many people, including me, in the following 7 years.
During that time Black Dog Ride evolved from one man’s mission into a National Charity which started thousands of conversations, altered people’s prejudices towards mental illness and most importantly, changed and saved countless lives.
But there was a problem. Whilst I was out there encouraging help seeking behaviour across Australia and more recently in the USA, I actually didn’t look after my own mental health. I’d never had depression or anxiety, nor suicidal thoughts – I was resilient. I thought I was lucky to have dodged the mental illness bullet which had been fired through numerous members of my family. Bullet proof! Wrong!
Towards the end of 2016 I finally realised that I was not mentally well. I visited my GP who diagnosed me with anxiety and depression and recommended I undertake a Mental Health Care Plan.
With the recent help of sessions on the Psychologist’s couch I identified what I think was the turning point for my mental wellbeing – when my resilience started to be chipped away. In late 2012, an organisation I had been instrumental in raising nearly $500,000 for, along with considerable national exposure, turned on me. I was gutted! A 4 year battle ensued for our brand, the flag we ride under, Black Dog Ride. Finally, late last year, we were granted our Trade Mark. A victory of sorts but it was a sad and hurtful chapter in the BDR story and it took its toll on me.
During those four years, tragically 3 of our fellow riders, including my friend Les James, died on Black Dog Rides. A number of riders have also suffered life altering injuries. Whist I don’t feel personally responsible for these accidents, they happened on my watch and have caused me considerable trauma. During Ride time I live in dread of those phone calls from our Ride Coordinators advising of another accident or even worse, another death.
I have lost count of the number of riders and supporters I have “counselled” over the years when they were suffering with a mental illness or had a friend or loved one struggling. There have also been many conversations with people who were at risk of suicide or were grieving from losing someone to suicide. I do not have the professional boundaries a Doctor or Psychologist has to be able to deal with these emotionally draining conversations and without me knowing, they impacted on my own state of mind. My Psychologist asked me “why do you feel you have to carry this burden on yourself?” After considerable thought I came to the realisation that it may be me trying to save everyone else because I couldn’t save my Mum from taking her life.
Throughout my Black Dog Ride journey there have been a few detractors and that’s fair enough, it’s human nature. I know I’m not perfect and that BDR isn’t perfect but criticism of the organisation and character denigration via social media does, at best, no good for anyone involved and at worst, can be divisive and cause great harm.
I share my personal situation with you because I feel I owe you an explanation about why I am leaving something I am so passionate about and because I hope my story will be further reinforcement of the Black Dog Ride message that it’s ok to talk about your mental health and that it’s ok to reach out for help. Perhaps in my case I left it a little longer than I should have but thankfully not too late!
I feel privileged to have met, ridden with and worked with so many wonderful people and organisations during my time at Black Dog Ride. Many will remain friends for life. Thank you, it has been an amazing 8 years which I will never forget.
I would also like to thank the dozens of individuals and companies who have so generously sponsored and supported Black Dog Ride. I hope you will continue to do so.
Where will the road take me now? Hopefully to a full recovery and then who knows where? But I hope to see you on it one day.
Thanks from Motorbike Writer
It’s not been an easy road for Steve Andrews.
Put yourself in his saddle: dealing with legal issues, the possibility of crashes and deaths, heading up a multi-million-dollar charity, being constantly confronted with people suffering mental health issues, being attacked for his efforts …
Quite frankly, we don’t know how he managed to do it for so long!
BDR is a major success story and it must continue.
We sincerely hope there is someone out there with the talent and guts to take on the task of CEO.
Meanwhile, Steve should be nominated for a suitable award. Not that we believe for a second that he is motivated by such.
We wish him well and thank him for his courage and effort.