For 13 years, Joel Arnold’s trademark dreadlocks protected his ears from the elements. But they’ve been forced to adjust after he cut his dreads off to fundraise for the Mental Health Foundation.

The 28-year-old Hamilton man decided it was time for a change after he spent three years travelling the world.

“Being away for so long, the dreads got messy and a bit unkempt so I was happy to take them off,” Joel says.

Most of Joel’s friends never knew him without dreads, so he made sure they were there for the transformation and everyone was given the chance to cut off a dreadlock.

“The dreads coming off was a very surreal experience – I was very attached to them and I was sad to see them go.

“The feeling of running my hands through my hair and scrubbing my scalp in the shower is still a weird feeling for me.”

Joel says everyone loves his new look and even he’s pleasantly surprised.

Thankful for supportive friends

For Joel, the experience wasn’t just about fundraising, it was also an opportunity to remind his friends to ask each other how they are. It’s a message that Joel included on his fundraising page.

“For me, mental health was the cause to fundraise for as I experience depression and believe there should be more awareness around it. It starts with mates doing something as simple as asking each other how they are.

“When I was overseas I had a rough patch where I was alone in London during the winter and I became very depressed. I got into a state where I couldn't think of anything other than negative thoughts.”

Joel says it was friendship that helped him to get through his experience with mental illness.

“I was lucky to have a good friend in London who looked after me and took me to get help. He supported me through a tough time and since then I've had a mass amount of love from friends and family.”

Joel smashed his target of $500 by raising $1,720. He puts his fundraising success down to the support of generous friends and family who backed his brave move.

“Going into this, I didn't know I would raise so much. But I was known for my dreads for so long that many people felt it was a big enough deal to really support me.”

Joel says frequent social media posts, focusing on raising awareness of mental illness rather than just fundraising and choosing to do something unusual, like chopping off his beloved dreads, contributed to his success.