Shanahan embraces power in families walking together for mental health awareness

SUPPORT: Mental health advocate John Shanahan hopes this year's Walking Off the War Within event sparks families to talk and support each other. Picture: Kate Healy

SUPPORT: Mental health advocate John Shanahan hopes this year's Walking Off the War Within event sparks families to talk and support each other. Picture: Kate Healy

WHAT will please John Shanahan most is to see families walking and talking about mental health together in Victoria Park.

Mr Shanahan hopes to foster awareness and support across age groups on one of the biggest issues in our society.

Walking Off the War Within has an incredibly raw message, but Mr Shanahan believes there is also a positive aspect, with families bonding by walking and talking together.

An army of people took to the park last year to honour firefighter and former soldier Nathan Shanahan, Mr Shanahan’s son, who took his own life in December 2016.

Nathan had been a fierce advocate in rallying attention to those silently struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A year before his death, Nathan had walked 400-kilometres for the cause.

About 2000 people took part in the inaugural walk.

The entire walk is 20-kilometres but Mr Shanahan said participants could walk as little as they need when the walk returns on March 24. It was all right to also just sit, watch and listen from St Patrick’s College oval.

“As long as people are aware of just being there helps,” Mr Shanahan said. “We want to try and concentrate on the positives and what we can do...Why we’re running the event is to raise awareness and get people talking about PTSD and mental health so it’s not swept under the carpet.”

There will be family activities, entertainment, emergency services exhibitions and a barbecue on site in the free event.

Mr Shanahan hoped the event would encourage more people to keep checking in on each other more often.

Volunteers, including Mr Shanahan and his grandchildren, have distributed fliers and cooked a sausage sizzle to promote the event. He was pleased with the interest and time people took in wanting to learn more about the event.

“I do think the walk has started to lift the profile of PTSD a little in this community. The firies have been tremendous getting behind the walk,” Mr Shanahan said.

There will be simultaneous walks across the nation and, for the first time, at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

People are encouraged to register for the March 24 Ballarat walk at walkoffww.com

If you or someone you know needs support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.

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