Rachel’s best friend of 20 years took his life. She’s putting ‘one foot forward’ for mental health support


Rachel Lee remembers the last time she heard from her best friend of two decades, Daniel Stone.

“He sent me a message just full of hope and happiness, and he couldn’t wait to talk to me about what was going on in his life,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.

She replied with an old photo of Daniel she re-discovered while cleaning, reminiscing on happy times.

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“I said, ‘I found one of my really special memories’ and I didn’t get a response, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time.”

Within hours of that text exchange, Daniel would take his own life.

Suicide is the leading cause of death among Australians aged 15 to 44, with nine people taking their own life each day, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Daniel, who had long struggled with mental health issues, was said to be “in good spirits” the day of the text exchange in 2021, staying with a friend and going to bed without “any signs of anything being out of place”.

His brother called Rachel the next day.

“I immediately knew something was wrong,” she said.

“I just really hoped it wasn’t the news I was going to receive.”

Her worst fears were confirmed. Daniel was dead.

Lee remembers Daniel often saying he thought no one would notice if he was gone.

“He used to say when he was in his lower times or darker times that no one would miss him, that life would go on and people would get over it,” she said.

“I don’t believe that’s the case at all.

“I think the grief will stay the same size, and it’s just we tend to grow around it.

“We still hold that grief in that space.”

Daniel and Rachel met through mutual friends of a youth group two decades ago and bonded over a love for music. Credit: Supplied to 7NEWS.com.au

Putting One Foot Forward

Daniel was a constant in Rachel’s life since the day the pair met, with Rachel appointing him as “man of honour” at her wedding.

“Daniel would have given the last of anything to help someone,” she said.

“He was always very, very gentle in nature and deeply caring, and I think that was a bit of where he got stuck because he was also deeply battling his own mental health as well.”

However, the loss of one of her best friends also sent Rachel into a spiral.

“Being someone with a depression and anxiety diagnosis, it really pushed me into a dark place,” she said.

“I was quite lost, and I didn’t know what to do with everything I was feeling. It just seemed like there was no way forward.”

In her lowest days, Rachel discovered a way to help others and honour Daniel’s life through the Black Dog Institute’s One Foot Forward initiative, which raises money for mental health research and support services through a free virtual walk.

“This was my way to let Daniel know that his life is still valid and a way for me to remember him, but in the same breath, I can also hopefully help people who have been in his shoes,” she said.

Rachel Lee sent her best friend Daniel Stone this old photo of the pair together days before he died. Credit: Supplied to 7NEWS.com.au
Daniel was Rachel’s ‘man of honour’ at her wedding. Credit: Supplied to 7NEWS.com.au

Daniel was not alone in his struggles, with millions of Australians experiencing mental health issues.

One in five — or about 4.2 million — people aged 16 to 85 have experienced mental illness in the last year and more than two in five — about 8.6 million — are estimated to experience a mental disorder at some point in their life, the AIHW reports.

Despite this, experts say 60 per cent of people with mental illness will not seek help.

Black Dog Institute senior research associate and clinical psychologist Dr Gemma Sicouri said data indicated a rise in mental illnesses in Australia, even before the pandemic struck, but there were still several barriers to someone seeking help.

“Firstly, being aware that you’re actually experiencing mental health symptoms that are worthy of getting treated,” she told 7NEWS.com.au.

The significant cost of treatment and a lack of mental health professionals to meet growing demand are also major factors.

“We know that mental health is really one of the big contributors to disability, specifically in young people, but also in adults, yet the funds that we receive from the government don’t really match that level of burden,” she said.

“We do have really good treatments that work for the majority of people, but the problem is getting it into the hands of the people who need it most and also when they need it.”

Finding the right support in a sea of information could also be overwhelming, Sicouri said.

Daniel was a ‘deeply caring’ friend, Rachel said. Credit: Supplied to 7NEWS.com.au

The funds raised from One Foot Forward go towards “crucial” research in the development of digital mental health tools and apps for adults and children, as well as suicide prevention research and community services, Sicouri explained.

She said the digital tools would help improve access to evidence-based care amid a lack of supply of clinicians, “almost like having a psychologist in your pocket”.

“There are a lot of digital apps out there for mental healthcare, but what we’re really focused on is making sure that they’re evaluated, and they’re evidence-based, so we know they actually work for the people who use them,” she said.

‘There is hope’

Rachel wants Daniel’s story to serve as a reminder that people are never alone and there is help available, it’s just a matter of finding the right fit.

“I always think there is hope,” she said.

“Even for Daniel, when he was in his darkest times, the traditional supports either were not available due to waits or weren’t quite the right fit, and I think it’s really important to take a grain of hope with you and look for those supports that really are best for you.

“I think Black Dog is a great organisation for ensuring that happens.”

Rachel has been taking part in One Foot Forward since Daniel’s 2021 death, and believes if she can help just one person, his legacy will live on.

“Being able to share his story is a really important lesson that his life was valid and special, and even if he didn’t necessarily see it at the time, there are people who desperately still miss and love him,” she said.

Walk, run or roll 40km, 60km, 100km or 150km during October, Mental Health Month, to show the one in five Australians impacted by mental illness they are not alone and to help raise funds for crucial mental health research and support services at Black Dog Institute.

Visit onefootforward.org.au to register or donate.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

For further information about depression, contact beyondblue on 1300224636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

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