Chetwynd’s Stan Fraser has reached the halfway mark in his 2,700 km journey from Bella Coola to Winnipeg, raising awareness for mental health with 1,400 km of wilderness and road behind him.
With one province down, Fraser passed into Alberta from B.C. on July 5, and says the journey has been a fruitful one, sparking meaningful conversations with fellow Canadians about mental health and their struggles.
“Every place we stop, there is somebody who’s been touched in one way, shape or form, dealing with suicide – it’s huge and I think people don’t really realize that,” he said. “A lot of people just don’t know the difference between having a bad day to actual depression.”
Fraser added that greater awareness and resources for understanding depression would go a long way in Canadian society.
“There’s a lot of people who just say ‘get over it’, they’ve got having a bad day or bad week mixed up with depression. Depression is something you can’t just get over with, just because somebody says so – it takes other people, it takes medication, sometimes it takes professional help and medication to really help out with this disease that we are faced with,” he said.
Fraser’s partner, Heather Irwin, agreed that you can’t just sweep mental health under the rug.
“Not only are we running into people that are dealing or have dealt with suicide, we’re talking to people, even men, who break down at cash registers and they’re so grateful to see Stan and what he’s doing in bringing it forward,” she said.
Irwin says the love and support from friends and strangers has been immeasurable and is a huge motivation to keep going.
Fraser was surprised by friends at 100 Mile House, with Saulteau First Nation recreation coordinator Mary Doyle, and their informal walking group the ‘Hiking Sistas’ coming to visit.
“You need that support to accomplish something like this. I had no idea they were coming,” said Fraser.
After 46 days on the road, Fraser said he took a bit of a breather and stopped in Hinton to get his hips looked at by a doctor. He’s been asked to slow his pace down, pushing his arrival date to November.
Never one to give up, Fraser is floating the idea of making part of the walk virtual, asking communities track their own kilometres, collectively getting him one step closer to his destination.
Back on the road yesterday to Spruce Grove, Fraser is feeling better. He hopes awareness and dismantling of stigma surrounding mental health continues long after he reaches Winnipeg.
“The only thing I hope for, and I’ve been doing walks since 2016, is for this to continue on. Not to let this fall by the wayside, just because I’ve finished this walk – it needs to continue,” Fraser said.
Tom Summer, Alaska Highway News, Local Journalism Initiative.
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