Why We Walk For Mental Health

16 Aug 2019

Warning: This blog discusses mental health conditions and suicide. If this story raises issues for you, help and support is always available at Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline 13 11 14.

Di Westaway and Tania Taylor, Directors 

It’s scary to share your real story.

It’s confronting to expose your heart to the world, to knowingly make yourself vulnerable. But, for the first time, we are telling our story.

We are united by a common pain. A pain all too many of us have experienced. It’s the pain of losing loved ones suddenly, without warning. It’s the tangled grief, anger and powerlessness you feel when someone you love takes their own life. It’s the helplessness of not knowing how to support friends and family who experience mental health conditions. It’s the fear of being unable to make your loved ones better.

Our experiences, our pain and our love have led us to this work, fuelled by a passion to make a difference to people’s lives. Here’s why.

Tania’s story 

Life as you know it can end on a day that starts completely normally. 

On that day, 7 years ago, I woke up, took the kids to school and attended a workshop with our corporate lawyers to run through an acquisition we were negotiating.  

As I drove home from work, my phone flashed up an international call from ‘home’. Excited by the prospect of having a chat to my sister, I answered. 

She told me to pull over. 

And then my whole world shattered. 

My Dad, my rock, the strongest person I knew, had taken his own life. 

Everything became surreal in that moment. So many thoughts flashed through my mind: Why? How? Why was he alone? Why didn’t he call? Why hadn’t I called him? Should I have known?   

I felt numb and dumb and I wanted to talk to someone but I didn’t want to say the words. I didn’t want people to think he was less than he was, or that he was weak or that there was something ‘wrong’ with him. 

I flew back to South Africa to attend his funeral, and that’s when my epiphany came.  

My boss called me as I was on my way to the church. He said; “Tania, I need you to review this document in the next 15 mins to progress the acquisition at the right pace.” 

He knew exactly where I was at that moment – but he had more important things on his mind.

Instantly I realised that I needed to make some big changes in my life – starting with the work I chose to do every day, and who I did it with.

I resigned a week later.

It took me two years before I could speak about my dad at all and another year before I could discuss his choice to take his own life. I was afraid of the stigma. I wanted to preserve his image as a community leader and strong businessman and I didn’t want to see pity in their eyes.

Then, a chance meeting in 2015 gave me an opportunity to join Wild Women On Top, this extraordinary company I now co-own and run with Di. What attracted me to it was that it was more than just a company. It’s a community that supports each other, loves each other and shares stories without judgement. These women are strong, resilient, empathetic and tight! They met through shared hiking adventures and have a deep sense of purpose. 

I’d found my tribe and I could finally share and heal. Through this, I developed a powerful desire to raise awareness and reduce the stigma around mental health issues. 

I am super excited to embark on this new partnership to support Beyond Blue with our Coastrek events.

Di’s story

I’ve devoted 50 years of my life to getting people moving because I was lucky enough to experience its benefits as a kid. I’m still really passionate about the health it can bring. This is why, at the lowest point in my life, I created Wild Women On Top. And soon after, Coastrek.

But recently I experienced the death of a loved one by suicide. Nothing can prepare you for this. It’s a loss that never leaves you and your heart breaks for those closest to it. 

I’ve never experienced depression or anxiety. Like most of us, this makes it difficult for me to really understand what it feels like, no matter how hard I try.

My instinct, as a woman, mother, daughter, friend and sister, is to try to fix. My focus, much to the frustration of my children at times, is to find solutions. To stay positive. To look on the bright side. And, sometimes, to immerse myself in nature on a thought walk, where surprising solutions are often found.

This doesn’t always go down well when you’re trying to support someone with mental health issues. I understand.

I know the anguish that comes from comforting a child who can’t stop crying, panicking, and retreating. I know the agony of watching someone you love descend into the depths of addiction when there’s nothing you can do to pull them out.

I know the complexity of emotions you feel when you know so many things that might help someone experiencing mental health issues - some sunshine, a walk, therapy, community, good food, a shower, nature – but they just can’t. In that moment, they literally can’t.

Scientific studies show that walking in nature with friends improves mood, productivity, physical and mental health, memory, sleep and sex drive. It also reduces stress, anxiety, lethargy and cognitive decline and can be used to treat anxiety and depression with no negative side effects.

But for many people with mental health issues, getting to that point is a challenge. You have to be well enough to get out of bed, put on your shoes and go walking. You have to be well enough to join a community, connect with others and be a friend.

And so, we needed a way to connect the head and the heart. To connect the statistics with the reality of the experience of mental health issues. 

I knew the hiking community we created with Wild Women On Top was helping women. I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of women experience the positive benefits of walking in nature with friends. I’ve heard countless stories of people who manage their moods, as well as depression and anxiety, through a combination of deliberate lifestyle activities. I’ve seen it in my own family.

And often, what got them started was doing something for someone else. They weren’t doing it for themselves, but for their friend, sibling, child or partner. This is the principle behind Coastrek: it’s the doing for someone else that motivates us to action when otherwise we simply can’t.

Five years ago, Tania joined our growing community and together we’ve partnered with Beyond Blue to lovingly design an event that connects us with each other and inspires us to walk together for mental health, to help ourselves and our loved ones.   

Together with our team, Beyond Blue, partners and volunteers, we’ll be able to help improve the mental health of thousands of Australians through walking in nature, while raising millions of dollars to provide resources and support for those experiencing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

These conditions effect over 3 million Australians, with 1 in 3 women suffering from anxiety and 1 in 5 from depression. Our Coastrek event really makes a difference.

We hope this gives you the courage to tell your story, and join our quest, walking and fundraising to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health, so that it might help you or others transform their lives.

If this story has raised issues for you, help and support is available 24/7 at Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 and Lifeline 13 11 14.

If you're interested in joining us to walk for mental health, register your interest here.