By Dieter Schneider, member of the Rotary Motorcyclist Fellowship (IFMR) and the Rotary Club Würzburg
A year after my son took his own life after suffering from severe depression, I set off on a motorcycle to Cape Town, South Africa. The trip through East Africa was both a time to process trauma and fulfill a desire for adventure. My encounters with interesting people and my experiences on this fascinating continent healed my inner turmoil. When I arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, I made a life-changing decision.
I wanted to get involved in mental health and suicide prevention. My club, the Rotary Club of Würzburg, Germany, supported me in a project that I called “Fellows Ride.” In June 2018, I started a ride around the world on a BMW 800 GS motorcycle. Even though I was driven by wanderlust and a thirst for adventure, this time I also had a mission. I wanted to shift attention off of myself and build awareness for the insidious disease of depression.
I went to Rotary clubs in many countries and shared my story with friends. I learned that depression is a global issue, but that it is dealt with very differently. In some countries, the disease is unfortunately mostly ignored, and the sick are stigmatized. In Australia, on the other hand, society deals with the issue of mental health without taboos or prejudice.
Following the death of his son from depression, Dieter Schneider funneled his grief into building awareness.
The disease, which can be life threatening if not treated in time, is gaining more attention all over the world. In Europe and the United States, it is already recognized as a widespread disease. I was not only able to put this topic on the agenda in the Rotary clubs I visited, but in many conversations, especially with young people, I was able to give courage and inspiration to people who are directly or indirectly affected by depression.
I was on the road for almost two years and 100,000 km: Southeast Europe, Turkey, the Caucasus, Iran, Pakistan, India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, Australia and the Americas. As diverse and alien as the cultures and landscapes were, I was just as familiar with the friendly welcome in the respective Rotary clubs.
In the outback in Australia I even founded a new chapter for the International Fellowship of Motorcycling Rotarians (IFMR). And many Rotary members remain friends with whom I keep in close contact.
Ride don’t hide
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I was forced to return from where I was riding in Argentina. (My motorcycle is still in Buenos Aires). I shared my experience with many Rotary clubs via Zoom. The lockdown has given me an opportunity to process my videos into a film, which I plan to turn into a documentary, “Ride don`t hide.”
In Melbourne, Australia, I was allowed to take part in the “Black Dog Ride,” a nationwide motorcycle ride for mental health. With thousands of bikers, it is a tradition in Australia. I want to implement this concept in Germany, as well.
Under the motto “With an open visor for depression aid” and with the title “Fellows Ride,” I am planning a pilot event on a Saturday sometime this year in Würzburg. As soon as the COVID-19 regulations allow it again, I will embark on a longer trip to build awareness for depression and suicide prevention in many other cities next year. I am hoping to receive support from the network of Rotary clubs and contacts.
How to help
While the main currency of my initiative remains building awareness, I welcome donations to support the work of the German Depression Aid Foundation, which is facing one of its greatest challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The restricted contact and social isolation are poison for people suffering from depression.
On my tour, Rotary was kind of a guardrail for me. Knowing that Rotarian friendship spans the world has always given me a sense of security. I can now return my thanks with my lectures. Currently I have prepared five lectures with pictures: From home to Nepal; From Nepal to Sumatra; Great Australia; From Canada to Panama and America del Sur.
If your club is interested in an online lecture, I am happy to help. Contact me at http://www.fellowsride.de.