Lisa Nichols, is a Woolgoolga local who is one of the driving forces behind “Woopi Wears Yellow”, which is an R U OK? promotion personalised for Woolgoolga and aimed at raising awareness around mental health and suicide. Lisa cares deeply about this cause and her local community, and her dedication to raising awareness and helping others is quite remarkable.
Hi Lisa. Can you tell us about your personal history here in Woolgoolga? Have you always lived in the area?
Kind of! I grew up in Grafton; my dad was a member of Woolgoolga Surf Club, so we visited every weekend and school holidays. Mum and Dad were both school teachers, so we would spend the whole six weeks of Christmas here making lots of great memories. I moved to live in Sydney for over a decade, then returned to Emerald Beach in the early ‘90s when I was expecting my first child.
You were one of the driving forces behind “Woopi Wears Yellow”. Can you tell us what this is and how the idea for this initiative came about?
Woopi Wears Yellow is an R U OK? promotion that I personalised a bit for Woolgoolga. It was fabulous. The week leading up to and on R U OK? Day, businesses and shops around Woolgoolga dressed their windows and staff in yellow, asking the question, R U OK?
Each day I would drive into town, and my heart would swell with pride as I spotted another burst of yellow. The actual R U OK? Day was amazing; the town was buzzing with kindness and compassion. People were asking each other if they were OK; some said yes, some said no, so we would sit and chat for a while. It was a great way to get people used to asking the question with ease and not be afraid of the answer.
How was this received by the community?
Really well; the majority joined in, most of those that didn’t have said they would like to participate this year, so I’m confident we will have another awesome day. I’m reaching out to the tradies to decorate their trucks, and hopefully, community members can decorate their front fences or verandahs.
Each year we start the day on the beach, where we form a giant human R U OK? This is always fun and a great way for people to get to know each other while they stand in the letters waiting for the drone to take photos. It’s such a great atmosphere. It’s also a little sad, as we reflect on the loss of so many lives via suicide and the grief for the loved ones left behind.
Can you tell us about the award that was received for the community for this initiative and what it means to you?
Yes, of course – I’d love to. Woolgoolga had the honour of being nominated and winning the Best Community Award at the R U OK? Awards recently. We have a lovely trophy that the town shares; we move it from business to business – it’s currently at Beachouse Café.
R U OK? have also made a video of our Woopi Wears Yellow campaign and use it to encourage other towns and communities to get behind promoting suicide prevention.
What inspired you to get involved with R U OK?
My lovely mum, Lesley, took her own life back in 1988; I sort of saw the signs but didn’t take them that seriously. I didn’t ask her if she was OK, as I was afraid of the answer and back then I didn’t know what to do if she said no. I think if I’d had the confidence and the knowledge that I have today, to ask mum how she was feeling and if she was considering suicide, there’s every chance she would still be here to enjoy her grandchildren and great-grandchildren today.
I want to help as many people as possible to feel comfortable with reaching out. Learn how to ask the question, listen to the person’s story, encourage them to get help and to check in with them as often as needed afterwards.
You are the co-founder of Fluro Fridays at Woolgoolga; can you tell us what it’s all about?
Oh wow – I love Fluro Friday so much. It is also a mental health initiative and was started in Bondi by this really awesome guy, Grant Trebilco. He had his own journey through mental health and found the best therapy for him was Saltwater Therapy — the beach and surfing.
He went down to Bondi one morning dressed in extra bright clothes, hoping someone would ask him why – and they did. Fluro Friday is such an easy way to open a sometimes difficult conversation about mental health. One in four people suffer from depression, so just about everyone has been touched by it somehow – whether themselves, family or friends.
When I was planning to start the Woopi version, I went into our local surf Shop XSSurf and asked Brett Pilon, the owner, if he was interested in joining me. He said yes straight away, and we haven’t looked back. I often say it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. He has been awesome, so supportive to everyone in the group, he makes any newcomers feel welcome straight away and always has a positive outlook on life. I’m very grateful.
On average, how many people do you have attend Fluro Fridays? And how can people get involved if they’re interested in joining in?
We probably average around 25 each week, though we have had over 100 at a few special events, like when we formed part of a worldwide wave and on R U OK? Day.
We meet every Friday at Woolgoolga Main Beach at 6:30 am. We’re probably not as surf focused as some of the other 200 or so beaches around the world, but most weeks we go for a swim or a surf, or we do yoga, meditation, Zumba, Tai Chi — most of all, we laugh, we check in on each other and tell stories.
You don’t have to have a mental health issue to join us, just be supportive. Our aim is awareness and being there for people who might need some support. Let them know they are not alone.
How do you find saltwater therapy helps people with depression and anxiety?
The combination of fresh air, exercise, the sea, salt, sand, surf and social inclusion all add up to a great combination; add a good belly laugh to that, and you have a Fluro Friday Woopi every week. Loneliness is worse for your health than 15 cigarettes a day – we’re trying to help overcome that, and what better place than on Woolgoolga Beach.
What advice would you give to others about starting up a conversation about mental health or reaching out if they need help?
Don’t be afraid; you don’t have to have all the answers — sometimes simply listening is enough. If it’s not, have the lifeline or mental health lines handy and encourage your person to seek professional help. Then check in on them; that night, the next day, the next week, whatever you think is appropriate. It will make a difference in someone’s life; maybe even save it.
Lifeline 131 144.
Mental Health Line 1800 011 511.
Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467.
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800.