Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) and Country Fire Authority (CFA) firefighters are encouraging their local communities to take on a 20 kilometre walk to raise awareness for mental health.
The annual event, Walking Off the War Within, will return in 2021 after being postponed last year, and will take place in Mildura, Brisbane, Ballarat and the Northern Territory.
The event challenges people to walk 20 kilometres, either with or without a 20 kilogram pack, to show support for returned defence force members and emergency services personnel, and to break the stigma around mental health.
Now in its sixth year, the walk is held in memory of Nathan Shanahan, a returned soldier and firefighter.
In April 2015, Nathan walked more than 400 kilometres from Mildura to Adelaide to raise awareness and funds for PTSI. Sadly, Nathan lost his battle with depression in December 2016, and the walk continues each year in his honour.
Fire Rescue Victoria Senior Station Officer Adam Young, a friend and colleague of Nathan’s, said the walk had become an opportunity for people of all ages and fitness levels to get together and walk and talk about ending the stigma that is often associated with mental health.
“As emergency services responders, we are often confronted with situations that can take a toll on us.
“We want to encourage people to speak up and to reach out if they need help – and to encourage everyone, whatever their job, to start conversations and check in on their family and friends.
“After the year we have just had, it’s even more important, and finally being able to get together is such a good opportunity to start those conversations.”
This year will be the first time the walk is held in Mildura again, after being postponed in 2020.
“Mildura was such a special place to Nathan, and so it’s fitting that this year we’re finally able to return to honour the legacy he started,” SSO Young said.
CFA Chief Officer Jason Heffernan said it was encouraging to see so many CFA members band together with their local community to raise awareness for depression and suicide.
“It’s important that communities across Victoria remain committed to starting conversations around mental health,” he said.
“CFA is proud to be a part of this united front against depression and PTSI.
“We encourage CFA members as well as the wider community to join the event, take on the challenge to show your support and show those suffering that they are not alone.”
Fire Rescue Commissioner Ken Block said he was proud of FRV firefighters’ commitment to starting conversations around mental health.
“Mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety, can affect us all at certain times in our lives,” Commissioner Block said
“As firefighters we regularly respond to traumatic incidents which can have an adverse impact on our mental health.
“FRV is committed to the physical and mental wellbeing of our firefighters and it’s important that we keep an eye on each other, and feel comfortable to reach out for help.”
Walking Off the War Within will take place in Mildura on March 13, in Brisbane on March 20, in Ballarat on April 24 and in Darwin on May 1.