Artist Peadar McDaid of Letterkenny is embarking today on a 150-mile trek across Donegal to raise awareness of how activity can improve mental health.
Peadar also wants to use his walk to bring attention to the mental health services available in the county and how people can access them.
The Mental Health Awareness Walk aims to challenge people to think differently about their mental health, and to remind them that something as simple as getting outdoors and walking can be a great help in improving mental health.
Peadar said walking improves overall well-being and helps fight depression, regular walking improves sleep patterns and active people have a reduced risk of suffering clinical depression.
The artist’s walk starts in Donegal town, and will take in Glenties, Dungloe, Gortahork, Fanad and the Inishowen peninsula, before finishing in Letterkenny. Peadar has been preparing for the walk since September.
“I always strive to promote positive mental health well-being, and late last year I felt the need to keep up the momentum around mental health awareness,” said Peadar, who for the past 15 years has been an arts tutor with the Mental Health Services at Create-A-Link Art Studio in Letterkenny.
“It will be a tough journey, but if it helps even one person think differently about managing their mental health it will be worth every step,” he said.
But Peadar said people do not need to take on a walk as challenging as he has to make a difference. He suggested people could use the eight days of his walk just to pledge to get outdoors around their village, town or estate.
The #Little Things campaign – as in “little things can make a big difference” – from the Health Service Executive’s health promotion services also promoted activity among its tips. Keeping active is a great way to protect your health and your mood, the HSE said.
During his walk, Peadar will link up with local communities, service users and their families, and schools. He is inviting anyone interested in taking part to join him along the way.
Raising awareness of services is an important part of his walk as well. “We want to make people aware of the services that are available in Donegal and how they can access them,” he said.
“Often people know there is help out there, but it’s knowing where to go that can be the problem,” Peadar said. He said people know to take their car to the garage, for example, or to ring an electrician when they have an electrical problem.
“If your mental health goes wrong, it’s not that easy – being aware of your mental health and learning how to deal with it can be difficult,” he said. “Raising awareness of what to do and where there is help is important.”
During the walk there will also be activity and engagement between schools, communities and service providers, “so we get the message out to as many local people as possible that help is out there and there are ways in which you can also help yourself”.
Mental health professionals will visit schools along the route during his walk to talk to schoolchildren about effective ways to manage mental health.
Peadar’s itinerary takes him from Donegal town to Glenties on May 24th, from Glenties to Dungloe on May 25th, Dungloe to Gortahork on May 26th, Gortahork to Fanad lighthouse on May 27th, Ballygorman to Carndonagh on May 28th, Carndonagh to Moville on May 29th, Moville to Burt on May 30th and from Burt to Letterkenny on May 31st.
Peadar’s walk is being held in conjunction with Mental Health Ireland, local service providers, the Green Ribbon project and HSE Health Promotion, and with support of the wider community.