Drive Against Depression Adelaide Drive Day April 2024
Drive Against Depression has landed on a research-backed way of facilitating the beginning of a conversation addressing mental health by bringing likeminded people together for a judgement-free drive.

The gravel crunched below the sticky tyres as I pulled around behind the McLaren Vale Visitor Information Centre, before turning to a dull spongey squish as I pulled the borrowed Hyundai Sonata onto the cold, dew-soaked grass at the rear of the building. A few other journalists I knew were already there in familiar press cars, while gradually, an eclectic mix of six-figure high-end sports cars, family SUVs with child seats in the back, and 1980s Japanese retro filled the paddock.

It’s the first time I’ve been to one of the unique events held by Drive Against Depression. The charity, started by Adam and Sarah Davis, offers a unique yet simple approach towards addressing mental health awareness and treatment. The organisation’s Drive Days bring car enthusiasts – or really, anyone interested in going for a Sunday drive – together in a judgement-free environment to talk about cars, life, work, mental health, or anything in-between.

This event, which took place on April 7, was the first drive day held in Adelaide, and the turn-out didn’t disappoint its organisers. “We were quite overwhelmed with the response, to be honest,” Sarah told me following the event.

“We thought with it being the first in a new location, and without a long lead campaign, we might get 10 or 15 people coming along. To have almost 50 people there on the day was just amazing.”

The efficacy of group activities, creative pursuits, and physical exercise on positive mental health outcomes has been studied and documented for some time.(1-3) Research by Biddle notes, though, in reference to therapeutic use of physical activity, “Some of the mental health benefits may be associated with doing something people ‘want to’ and enjoy. We should not be too prescriptive, therefore, concerning the types of activity we recommend for mental health.”(3)

Drive Against Depression’s offering is precisely this – something non-prescriptive and enjoyable, which, like other novel approaches to addressing and treating mental health, deliberately intends “to create a space where mental wellness and self-care are approachable without the stigma of traditional clinical therapeutic formats”, as noted in a study by Zoghbi et al.(1)

“We have identified through our events, and through research that we’ve read, that being able to facilitate the beginning of a conversation, simple though it sounds, can be one of the most fundamentally important parts of people seeking help,” says Sarah. “Creating a safe space for conversation is as important as it gets. There are lots of people who provide crisis services, but we are [positioned] at the beginning of that conversation, and we know that’s where we fit.”

The first sip of coffee took the edge off the morning chill as the 50-strong cohort came together ahead of a short talk by Professor Nicholas Proctor and Dr Kate Rhodes, both from the University of South Australia, about their research and academic work regarding mental health treatment, with them clearly backing what Drive Against Depression is offering.

After a group photo from a drone overhead, it was time to hit the road, the burble of exhausts filling McLaren Vale’s main street as the procession of mix-and-match cars made its way through the famed wine region as we set off on the drive route for the day. After passing some of the town’s best-known wineries, we snaked our way up Willunga Hill – a hillclimb stage used for standalone driving events, and as a staple of the Tour Down Under bike race.

From there, we turned off at the edge of Kuitpo Forest to witness some overhead scenes of the region from the top of Range Road, the tight corners through this section seeing our group of cars bunched up. The smell of unburnt fuel from the rotary-powered Mazda RX-7 in front of me flooded into the cabin through the Hyundai’s open sunroof. The odd pop and bang could be heard from the tailpipes of others in the convoy. Hands gripping the wheel at 9 and 3, there’s little else crossing your mind beyond the innate exhilaration of the sounds and smells and sensations of truly driving.

It was after this first leg of the drive, however, where the real magic of the event took place, at least in my eyes. Congregating in a tiny, overflowing carpark in Clarendon for a chance to grab another coffee or something from the local bakery, everyone began chatting with one another. People from different walks of life, but bonded together by this shared 60km drive, just talking about anything – cars, predominantly, or otherwise. A group of mostly strangers at the start of the day now turned into friends as Instagram handles and phone numbers were shared.

“One of the things […] that really struck me was that most people didn’t know each other in the morning, and by the time we got to the final location, there was camaraderie and laughter and conversation,” Sarah tells me.

“We can’t ask for more than that from our community – and that word, community, really struck me as well. It’s about building a group of people who can support each other in the future, and not just go for a drive together but hang out together and support each other.”

Glasses clinked and laughter permeated every conversation as most in attendance sat down in the Stirling Hotel at a long table that stretched across the width of the room after the drive had concluded. While I was familiar with close to half of the attendees, it only made it easier to help start conversations between those who didn’t yet know each other. The constant flow of conversation that carried through the afternoon was only interrupted by the arrival of a plethora of schnitzels – the obvious pub lunch order – and the ensuing need to figure out whose was whose.

Although my familiarity with the organisers and many attendees was obviously a motivator to attend, the reality is that I needed something like this anyway. In an age of remote or hybrid working arrangements, and at a time when people particularly in and around my own age cohort are reporting record rates of loneliness, social isolation, and a decrease in overall happiness,(4-6) the work of organisations like Drive Against Depression is made all the more important. Having entered at the end of a difficult week of work and left feeling positively uplifted, it speaks to the efficacy of an event like this.

Of late, I and others I know have expressed a longing for the simpler times we had when we were younger. Oh, to be 18 and larking about in our dingy first cars again. Perhaps, though, the answer has been right under our noses all along. Going for a drive – no matter what car it’s in – and grabbing lunch with some mates could just be the answer many have been looking for. Just like it was back then.


You can find out more about Drive Against Depression and upcoming Drive Days by visiting driveagainstdepression.com.au or the organisation’s Facebook page.

If this story has raised any issues, you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. In an emergency, please call 000.


Principal photography by Mitchell Oke. Additional photography by Patrick Jackson.


References

  1. Zoghbi, S, Roberts, P, Pollock, M & Steen, L 2023, ‘Activity groups as mental health interventions for creative arts professionals’, Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 332–348.
  2. Caddy, L, Crawford, F & Page, AC 2012, ‘Painting a path to wellness: correlations between participating in a creative activity group and improved measured mental health outcome’, Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, vol. 19, no. 4, pp. 327-333.
  3. Biddle, S 2016, ‘Physical activity and mental health: evidence is growing’, World Psychiatry, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 176-177.
  4. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2023, ‘National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing’, Australian Bureau of Statistics, viewed 11 May 2024, <https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/latest-release>.
  5. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, ‘Social isolation and loneliness’, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, viewed 11 May 2024, <https://www.aihw.gov.au/mental-health/topic-areas/social-isolation-and-loneliness>.
  6. Ipsos 2023, ‘Australians are less happy than they were in 2021’, Ipsos, viewed 11 May 2024, <https://www.ipsos.com/en-au/australians-less-happy>.
Patrick Jackson
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