WOMAN OF THE WEEK: SARAH McFARLANE-EAGLE
As founder of Walking Feat, Sarah McFarlane-Eagle is taking small steps towards reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness… 1400km of small steps, to be exact.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 45 percent of all adults will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Of these adults, 70 percent will not seek treatment because of the stigma and confusion about where to go for help. By 2020 the World Health Organisation predicts mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability.
Sarah MacFarlane Eagle thinks she can beat these stats if we all walk together.
Walking might be an understatement: this month Sarah is leaving the small town of Armidale to walk more than 1400 kilometers in Japan. Her goal is to raise awareness about mental illness and lessen the stigma when people reach out for help. She is doing this in memory of her brother Ben who went missing 11 years ago.
Sarah spoke to The Hoopla.
What do you think the community needs to hear when talking about mental illness?
I want the community to know and understand the prevalence of mental illness, that no one is immune from developing a mental health issue, and because of this we all need to increase our understanding and knowledge about the complexities of it. There are many mental health service providers available; we need to know what is there and how we can access it if we need to, and to have courage to use them.
From my own personal experience I want people to be aware of how urgent the issue of funding is – Ben was discharged at his worst due to lack of funding.
It’s not good enough and sadly this still happens now. I strongly feel we all need to have the courage to speak out, to ask for support, to stand together as a community so that policy can change to reflect the needs of the community. No one is alone with their journey relating to mental illness.
What are you doing to further the cause?
This year I’m undertaking two walks, in Japan and then from Armidale to Melbourne.
I’ll be walking 1400km in Japan, on the island Shikoku. It’s an old pilgrimage visiting 88 Buddhist and Shinto temples that follows the circumference of the island. While I’m in Japan I hope to collaborate with mental health services there, one year after the tsunami there will be still a lot of recovery processes taking place, particularly regarding the impact on mental health. Natural disasters have a history of leaving a trail of mental health issues afterwards.
On May 29, I’ll be leaving for the second leg, from Armidale to Melbourne, a further 1700km. The purpose of this walk is to raise awareness of mental health issues and service providers along the route. There’ll be talks and events all the way down to Melbourne.
I launched Walking Feat in November 2011 with the help of former Australian of the Year Patrick McGorry. The launch was the beginning of a journey to recognise the work that’s required to empower, improve and inform the lives of those living with a mental illness. Walking is one of the ways I can show the community that both physically and metaphorically; we need to move forward together.
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