BALLARAT'S event putting mental health for emergency services and defence force personnel in the spotlight will take a hiatus this year in a bid to ease pressure on sponsors.
Walking Off the War Within, sparked in the legacy of Ballarat's Nathan Shanahan, has evolved into a multi-state event for families and frontline workers to work together, symbolically sharing the load they all carry.
Ballarat event leader John Shanahan, who is Nathan's dad, said the past two years had been "tough enough" for community businesses and the team behind the event did not feel it was appropriate to seek help from sponsors.
An event will proceed in Brisbane next month while the Mildura crew has postponed an event to September. An event touted for Darwin has also been cancelled.
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Mr Shanahan said it was a tough decision but it felt like the right time for a rest. He urged the community to continue to embrace families of those who have served or who are serving in this time and for mates to keep checking in with each other.
Nathan Shanahan launched a solo Walking Off the War Within event, trekking from his home in Mildura to Adelaide, carrying a 20-kilogram pack, before his death by suicide in 2016.
Friends, family and colleagues have continued to walk in his name and raising awareness for post-traumatic stress the past five years with events also popping up in Warrnambool and Canberra.
Events have evolved into family-friendly carnival-like days with people encouraged to walk as much or as little as they like in a sign of unity in stomping out the stigma to speak up and to seek help.
Walking Off the War Within gatherings have also become a safe place for defence force and emergency services personnel to share experiences with each other, including issues in trying to get mental health help.
The Ballarat event's cancellation comes as the Royal Commission in Defence and Veteran Suicide heard partners and family members caring for mentally ill veterans tended to be treated as an "annoyance" or "completely ignored" by veteran and defence services.
Professor Sharon Lawn, the former commissioner of the South Australian Mental Health Commission, told the inquiry on Wednesday families had an intimate and critical support role, yet the injured person tended to be "treated in a silo".
She said the veteran affairs department routinely kept family members in the dark, refusing to inform them about everything from the psychiatric medications prescribed or danger signs to watch.
"They're (family) invisible to the services," Professor Lawn said. "It's like the head is separated from the body. Who do they think actually helps this person? It's not just impacting the veteran, it's actually impacting everyone else at home."
Who do they think actually helps this person? It's not just impacting the veteran, it's actually impacting everyone else at home.- Professor Sharon Lawn, the former commissioner of the South Australian Mental Health Commission
The inquiry heard it could often take up to 30 years before veterans were finally diagnosed with serious mental illnesses, like post-traumatic stress, by which time "the damage had been done".
Defence members and veterans were also notoriously reluctant to seek help, yet when their spouses or families reached out for help in a crisis, veteran services would refuse to deal directly with the family.
Mr Shanahan has made a personal written submission to the Royal Commission, which has hearings scheduled until August. He has long been championing the need for an independent forum into veteran suicide and mental health.
Professor Lawn said defence members trying to readjust to civilian life struggled after being "stripped" of all their previous identities as a father, a son, a daughter or a sibling in the process of making them a soldier.
"It's like a UFO picks them up and drops them back several years later into their community," Professor Lawn said. "That's fraught because people's identity is central to their mental health and wellbeing."
People can still support Walking Off the War Within, including merchandise, at walkoffww.com.
- with AAP
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