Tony Bruno, an unwavering advocate for youth mental health and the driving force behind the Weez Project, has taken on the challenge of breaking down taboos, raising awareness, and advocating for zero suicide in Hong Kong.
In a bustling ambition-driven metropolis like Hong Kong, a silent epidemic has been silently perturbing the city’s youth. In a world that glamourises success, the reality of mental health issues and suicide among young people is a pressing concern.
Tony Bruno, a dedicated advocate for zero suicide in Hong Kong, has taken it upon himself to raise awareness about mental health issues among local youth and create a movement of change through his initiative, the Weez Project.
A Personal Tragedy Becomes a Catalyst for Change
The story of the Weez Project begins with a heart-wrenching tragedy – the loss of Tony Bruno’s 15-year-old son, Jamie, to suicide in 2017. Out of the depths of grief and a desire to make sense of this devastating loss, Tony and his wife embarked on a journey to channel their pain into serving others.
“We wanted to find a way to make sense of that tragedy by helping other young people with mental health illnesses and advocating for suicide prevention in Hong Kong,” Tony shares.
In their pursuit of creating positive change, Tony and his wife established the Weez Project. The project was aptly named after their late son Jamie, who was a talented street graffiti artist known by the moniker “Weez.” The core focus of the Weez Project is to raise awareness about suicide prevention and mental health issues among the youth in Hong Kong.
One of the project’s innovative initiatives is the creation of Weez Walls – vibrant street art murals designed by local artists that serve as visual reminders of the importance of mental health awareness. These striking murals, dotted across the city, not only capture attention but also spark conversations and destigmatize the topic of mental health.
“We hit upon this idea of branding and a number of activities which primarily raise awareness about suicide and suicide prevention,” Tony explains.
He goes on to share the global impact of their efforts, “Weez around the world showcases people from diverse corners of the globe imitating or using Jamie’s art and sharing it on our website. His artwork has gone viral, spreading a message that transcends borders.”
Amid the challenges brought about by the pandemic, Tony Bruno’s dedication only grew. The idea for Weez Walk emerged as a unique way to raise funds and awareness while engaging the community.
“During the pandemic, our fundraising efforts for mental health support came to a halt. So, I came up with the idea to go on a long, crazy walk around Hong Kong Island,” Tony shared.
In February 2021, on the anniversary of Jamie’s passing, Tony embarked on a solitary journey around the perimeter of Hong Kong Island’s coastal trail, covering approximately 62 kilometres. The response was overwhelming, and the funds raised exceeded their initial target by a significant margin.
“Weez Walk 2022 saw over 700 participants, and Weez Walk 2023 was even more successful. We are currently planning for Weez Walk 2024, and each edition improves in terms of tracking, route management, fundraising, and awareness,” Tony said.
Crucially, Tony emphasised the importance of their partnership with KELY Support Group, a long-standing NGO in Hong Kong dedicated to mental health awareness and suicide prevention among youth aged 14 to 24.
“Our work with KELY Support Group is essential as they bring expertise, staffing, facilities, and connections to the table. They are the main NGO we support and they are the subject matter experts on youth wellbeing and suicide prevention. Together, we are amplifying the impact of our efforts,” he added.
Breaking Barriers: Cultivating Open Conversations About Mental Health
Creating an environment where people feel comfortable discussing their mental health struggles can be a daunting task, but Tony Bruno’s approach offers a beacon of hope.
“The key is to help people understand that they are not alone,” he asserts. The Weez Project places a strong emphasis on peer support groups, recognising that individuals often find it easier to open up to peers who share similar experiences.
These peer support groups, a cornerstone of the Weez Project, have witnessed powerful stories of transformation. Young people have not only opened up about their struggles but have also taken the bold step of sharing their experiences through projects supported by Weez Project and implemented by KELY Support Group.
“Seeing families walk together during Weez Walk, witnessing young people sharing their stories, and realising that they are not alone – these experiences are deeply touching and inspiring,” shared Tony.
A Network of Hope
Hong Kong, like any other city, offers a range of resources to support individuals grappling with mental health challenges. Tony highlighted the Project Connect help referral programme by KELY Support Group, designed to guide young people and their families through the process of seeking help.
“The journey to addressing mental health isn’t as straightforward as visiting a doctor for a physical ailment,” he explains Project Connect helps individuals understand the path and directs them to service providers.
Beyond Project Connect, Hong Kong boasts a growing number of private health centres, mental health practitioners, and NGOs dedicated to mental wellbeing. Organisations like Mind Hong Kong, with their wealth of expertise and clinical psychologists, play a pivotal role in providing swift responses to stress and anxiety.
Weez Project: Inspiring Change
Tony Bruno’s vision for the Weez Project is unapologetically bold: zero suicide in Hong Kong. With unwavering determination, the project strives to reduce suicide attempts through increased awareness, improved access to services, and destigmatisation of mental health issues.
“We have work to do with Hong Kong authorities, and we’re in conversations with them. The mission is to keep working towards zero suicide,” he affirmed.
The future of the Weez Project holds promise and potential. As partnerships grow stronger and collaboration expands, the impact on youth mental health is set to multiply.
“Our relationships with KELY Support Group, Mind Hong Kong, universities, and various organisations are vital. We’re not alone in this journey,” added Tony.
In parting, Tony offers guidance to those who aspire to create similar initiatives in their communities. “Collaboration and partnerships are the keys to success. Seek out like-minded individuals and organisations to amplify your impact. We’ve learned that together, we can make a difference,” he shares optimistically.
As Tony Bruno and the Weez Project continue to ignite conversations, spread awareness, and inspire change, the landscape of mental health in Hong Kong is undergoing a transformation. The silent epidemic is being met head-on with a symphony of voices, united in their resolve to create a future where no one walks the path of mental health struggles alone.