Stand Your Ground is the story of a father, his son and a legacy of grief. But it is also a story of hope.
Brendan’s Dad, Herman, was a Tattoo Artist and Biker for over 20 years. He was a very big, strong, intelligent and influential man. In fact, the most influential those that knew him had ever known. He was also a husband and raised 3 sons.
In November of 2007 Brendan’s father took his own life in Adelaide, South Australia. Brendan found his body. He was 15.
Brendan’s dad left behind a suicide letter personally addressed to him. In it he told Brendan that he didn’t want to expose him to the “doom and gloom” that had taken over his life. So he ended it.
Not long after his father’s death, Brendan found Muay Thai. Through this, he found a sense of belonging and purpose in a time when he was lost. He was able to direct his energy in a positive direction and learnt the meaning of self-discipline, hard work and respect.
After some time, he cleared out the shed where his dad took his life and turned it into a gym. He left only the container of his father’s ashes in the roof. People came from far and wide inspired by his story and often, needing a place to tell their own. The film communicates some of the philosophies that are at the heart of Muay Thai and their real-life application to the internal journey of emotional pain and suffering.
After enduring many years of increasing emotional solitude, Brendan made a choice to face his fears and shared his life in detail on a blog, Brendanmcdonnell.com. He also created ‘Herman’s Hands’, a Mental Health Awareness and Suicide Prevention Organisation in his dad’s name; www.hermanshands.com. Brendan says the organisation acts as his dad’s guiding hands from wherever he is now.
He has already created dialogue and inspired change in many people’s lives. More and more people are asking the question “Who is Herman?”. More and more people are getting to know the man, and in turn awareness is being spread. Some of those suffering in silence are being helped to feel a little less alone.
Sadly, the 'doom and gloom' continues to spread in Brendan's family. What started as a mission to help people outside his family has become a desperate quest to help those within. Brendan must also acknowledge that his efforts are increasingly taking a toll on his own health.
8 people are killing themselves every day in Australia, and Brendan has decided to fight back, to Stand His Ground.
How does the project meet the aims of a philanthropic foundation?
Nobody is immune to mental illness and suicide has become epidemic in Australia. It is the leading cause of death of people aged 16-44 years. 1 in 7 of us suffer from anxiety. Most people will know someone struggling with mental health, or perhaps not even realise that they do.
With such staggering numbers, Mental Health is still something that is tip-toed around. With this film, we aim to help Australian’s realise they should not be ashamed of what they are suffering.
Brendan has managed to turn something negative into an inspiring story of hope. He found Muay Thai and through it he was able to give his life purpose and also find something much greater. Muay Thai may not be for everyone, but there is always somewhere or someone to turn to.
It is a fact that men are 4 times more likely to take their own lives than women. Too many of these men suffer in silence. They do not reach out to the great organisations that exist. Brendan speaks from experience when he says that these men do not want to identify with their vulnerability, let alone make it known to anyone else. He believes that for many of these people, all they need to know is that they are not the only one.
Until we can change the face of mental health awareness and break down the stereotype and culture that stands in the way of removing the stigma surrounding the topic in this country, we must explore new ways to connect with Australian men. How do you connect with someone who does not want to identify with their problems or connect with the direct services that exist to help them? Brendan and Herman’s Hands present a subtle and indirect avenue for awareness spreading.
If you exercise regularly, your mental health can improve and by sharing his and his father’s stories with his clients and the public, Brendan has created a space where people can relate and feel confident to share their own stories whilst channelling their stresses into an outlet.
There are already many great organisations trying to alleviate the stress of mental health for individuals. With this documentary, we hope to add to their cause, becoming part of a message for those who need it. Finding an outlet is important and this film will hopefully help people to start their journey to a healthier mind.
Brendan's clothing company, Herman's Hands, already donates part of their proceeds from selling T-Shirts to mental health charities. Through social media and print articles, Brendan and his organisation have had great successes in connecting with and helping people struggling with similar experiences. The value this holds for the Australian community is infinite; encouraging all people to join a group, release and to talk.
What outcomes do you hope to achieve by making this film and how will you measure its impact?
Aims & Objectives
Herman's Hands has already made an impact on 100+ peoples' lives. People travel from afar to be trained by Brendan in Muay Thai; not just to learn fighting skills but because often they are suffering inside.
Brendan’s ultimate goal is to change the heinous statistics. This film is a step toward that goal.Its aims and objectives are to raise awareness of the suffering associated with mental illness and suicide. And also to show people in similar situations that there is a way through the fog.
This documentary aims to connect with those suffering in silence to show them that they are not the only one and to look after their mental health. Through the film we want to help change the face of mental health awareness also.We want to continue the conversations that Brendan has already worked hard to create, on a greater scale. We want people to stop attaching a stigma to those who might suffer from depression, anxiety or other.
Brendan has already begun giving talks on the subjects of mental and physical health awareness and suicide prevention in some schools and workplaces. It is another objective to further this work by developing a new talk series to accompany the film. By using the film itself in the presentations Brendan should be able to make stronger connections with his audience.
Logistically we would like to be able to complete a road trip back to Adelaide, Brendan's home city, to revisit places he passed on his way to Sydney while making the journey in his van. This was a time he recognised as healing for him as he left Adelaide behind and travelled solo across the country. The crux of this trip would be re-visiting the original gym he opened, in the shed where his father completed suicide, on the 10th anniversary of the day he first opened in November. We'd also like to travel to the Northern Territory to film with Brendan's brother living there, so we can revisit their past and address the situation openly; something Brendan hasn't been able to do yet.
Our goal is to complete filming by the end of February 2018, with edits commencing into March. With this in mind, we would look to be rolling out the film to Australian audiences in 2018 based on the below strategy.
Brendan and the film do not present an answer to the problems we face; instead we are communicating a step in the right direction.
What is your education and outreach strategy?
Brendan already has an education and outreach strategy. Everything is documented on hermanshands.com and brendanmcdonnell.com .
The hope is that this film will increase his reach and impact. This will happen with or without external funding. It’s just a matter of time. But, 8 people are killing themselves PER DAY in this country and there’s no time like the present. We're not saying Brendan has the answers but, he's doing something, and people respond to his down to earth, humble personality.
Other than Brendan's reach other avenues we hope to explore are:
1. Film Festivals
2. Social Media's expansive word of mouth and a lightly funded social rollout campaign that aims to target the correct audience. We would ideally like to make sure those who need it most see the film.
3. Partnership with an organisation that aligns with the idea so they can host and promote the film on their media channels.
4. Utilise events relevant such as world mental health month next year for exposure. Muay Thai has also just been accepted as an Olympic sport so this is an avenue we can explore with sporting brands.
5. Approach Talk shows and panelist programs to generate a discussion
6. Use Brendan's influential clients to help us promote the film; with large followings on social media.
7. Network Sales of the documentary once completed.