Empowering young minds to become mental health heroes
1/11/2023. By Carmelle Wilkinson.
Ashlee Harrison, Founder of zero2hero.
Losing her stepfather to suicide when she was 20, was a shock Ashlee Harrison did not see coming.
Curtin Commerce graduate and Founder of zero2hero said the tragedy ripped her family apart and left them picking up the pieces.
Looking back, the 35-year-old mother of two said the trauma of losing her stepfather compelled her to do something about an issue that sadly affects too many.
Following graduation, Ashlee said she spent the next few years finding her feet in the social service space, with a clear mission on her agenda – to save lives.
Harnessing her energy and passion, she started to bring people together for events and fundraisers to spread the message of suicide prevention – but she didn’t stop there.
In 2009, Ashlee launched zero2hero, a not-for-profit organisation which raises awareness on mental health and suicide prevention.
“Suicide is the leading cause of death in Australians between 15 – 44 years of age and 75% of all mental health conditions emerge before the age of 25. That’s why we were very conscious to focus our attention on young people,’’ she said.
Today, zero2hero has delivered suicide prevention programs to thousands of young people in WA, empowering them with the knowledge and skills to support themselves and their peers.
Did you ever think you’d be working in the not-for-profit space educating people about mental health?
I had absolutely no idea.
I’ve always been interested in business, so when I started studying Commerce, I assumed I would one day start my own business – but I didn’t know what that looked like.
After I lost my stepdad to suicide, I started to read more about mental health and realised there wasn’t enough information out there.
At the time I remember feeling quite frustrated at the lack of education in this space. I wasn’t aware of the warning signs or red flags, so our family didn’t know what to look out for.
After I completed my business degree at Curtin, I decided to find out more about suicide prevention and make it my mission to educate and empower people on what those warning signs are.
Many years later we have now engaged thousands of young people on exactly that. But more importantly, through our organisation, we teach them how to look after their own mental health.
zero2hero run events, programs and camps to raise mental health awareness.
Was there ever any hesitation in starting zero2hero?
It was honestly just one step at a time.
For the first four years I was quite adamant that I didn’t want to run a charity.
I didn’t think there was a need for another charity.
Initially when I started, I fundraised for a number of different organisations in Perth that worked in mental health and suicide prevention, and I helped raise a quarter of a million dollars.
Soon after, I realised I could raise all the money in the world for the crisis point of suicide but that wasn’t going to stop people from getting to crisis point. The focus needed to be on prevention.
I needed to find a solution.
Ten years later, we have only just scratched the surface, but I am confident we are a lot closer than we once were.
zero2hero students finishing zero2hero’s Chevron Tough Stuff program.
Did you notice any red flags with your stepdad before he tragically took his life?
Not really. Well not the ones that you would think.
He never once spoke about his mental health or raised it as a potential issue.
And going back to then, suicide wasn’t a conversation that many people were comfortable having.
I honestly didn’t think anything like that could happen to my family.
My dad left when I was quite young, so I pretty much grew up with my stepdad.
He was my dad for 12 years, before he died.
Since educating myself about suicide prevention and mental health I’ve come to know that chronic pain is a red flag.
My stepdad suffered chronic back pain and was dependent on pain medication.
The back pain then led to financial struggles because he wasn’t able to work.
From there, there was just a knock on of effects.
Looking back now he had about a 10-year battle with mental health issues.
Ashlee is committed to empowering young minds and preventing suicide.
Many business owners admit to showing signs of entrepreneurship from a young age. Does this ring true for you?
Haha, I think so.
I had my first paper round when I was about seven or eight.
From a young age I knew if there was something I wanted I needed to work hard for it, so I grew up with that mentality.
In year 6 I had a little make up business running at school, where I’d charge my friends a small fee for lip gloss and eyeshadow, which I made in my bedroom at home using Vaseline and glitter.
Our make up shop would run on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it was quite popular.
From there, I started my own car wash business in the local neighbourhood, where I’d go around and wash neighbour’s cars for $10 for one wash and $15 for two.
By high school I added babysitting to my list of side hustles.
I’ve always been hardworking and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and do what is needed.
What inspires you to keep going?
Just knowing we are helping someone who is struggling with their mental health is amazing. Hand on heart I can say that’s the greatest motivator and it’s what keeps me doing what I do.
Do you have any advice for anyone reading this? (Particularly our young generation)
You are the average of the top five people you hang around, so you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.
If you want to change, and you want to grow and develop, sometimes that means changing who you’re around because your vibe will attract your tribe.
One of the big things that I’m noticing in young people today and a big concern for me is that they’re not prepared for failure — they don’t know how to fail forward, and they’re not supported in failing.
I know failure doesn’t feel great, but if you can learn from it, life really does get better after that failure.
And always seek support if you need it. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask for help.
Lifeline 13 11 14, Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636