General News — 21 January 2015

untitledIt’s a level of intimacy usually reserved for close friends or family, but on Wednesday, Marcus Falconer will offer a hug to anyone who asks. Whether it be a comforting embrace or a brotherly chest-bump, Mr Falconer said he’s up for it. “Around two years ago, one of my best mates in Sydney was going through a bit of a tough time and said she could do with a hug,” he said. “I came out of a meeting and hugged a lamp post and sent her that image for a laugh and said that was the best I could do for the time-being. Then I started thinking about the other people out there who might need a hug, and mental health is something close to me, so I started offering free hugs for fun.”

Mr Falconer went public with his efforts last year on 21 January – a day dubbed “National Hug Day” in the United States. “I went to the Murray Street Mall with my wife and kids, who were my security blanket, as I realised what I was doing was a bit weird to some,” he laughed. “I only stood out there for two hours and I got about 200 hugs. Lots of people came and had a chat and said they were supportive of what I was doing.” This Wednesday, he plans to do the same again, but over a longer period of time. “I’ll be at the top of the escalators at Perth Underground station for the morning commute, then I’ll probably head up to Brookfield Place and then I’ll be in Murray Street Mall from 11am until 2pm,” Mr Falconer said. “After this year, I’d love to take what I’ve done and sit down properly with Beyond Blue or an organisation like that to find out if they’d be interested in replicating what I’m doing in other parts of Australia.”

The 41-year-old said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder 20 years ago, but that it took “10 or 15 years” before he got to a point where he was able to “manage his condition properly” and lead a full life. “If I had accepted it quicker and sought the appropriate help and opened myself to the various forms of treatment, I think I would have had less periods of instability,” he said. “I wrote a post online about why [free hugs] was important to me and some people really opened up about the experiences they had with mental health issues, either with themselves or someone else. “This could be the first time someone has spoken up about an issue they’re having, so it’s encouraging them to seek help or tell others about it, which is great, and smashing taboos and being a bit more open about it.”

For support and advice in a personal crisis, contact Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800.

This article first appeared The Sydney Morning Herald, 19 January2015.


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