Project WalkToTalk Bristol tackles mental health stigma

Project WalkToTalk have organised a walk in Bristol today to get more people opening up about mental health.

The aim is to raise awareness and allow participants to share their experiences whilst exploring the city.

There was no shortage of fluorescent pink at College Green, where 150 participants turned up at the starting line. Many were sporting pink face-paint and the official Project WalkToTalk t-shirts, hoodies and wrist bands.

The idea behind this was that all you needed to do was look out for those in pink, to know that you could approach them for a conversation.

Earlier in the week, event organiser and University of Bristol student, George Cole, expressed his hopes that the walk would bring people together as a community.

“Students and members of the Bristol public will walk round via eight checkpoints, and we’re encouraging them to have open conversations about mental health because we feel that is something that is actually really powerful in solving the current issues that Bristol has faced as a city,” he said.

“By talking about things we’re no longer alone in what we go through.”

Project WalkToTalk registration tent
Project WalkToTalk registration tent
Project WalkToTalk sign on College Green
Project WalkToTalk sign on College Green

Starting at College Green, the walk takes participants through a variety of Bristol checkpoints including Ashton Court Estate, Clifton Suspension Bridge, Wills Memorial Building, Gloucester Road and the Harbour Side.

“Bristol’s had quite a lot going on very recently with some local suicides, and obviously the bridge is fairly symbolic in this, but we actually want to put a really positive spin on this, a spin of hope,” said George.

“Therefore by incorporating the bridge, and bringing people past this landmark that a lot of people see in quite a negative way in a mental health perspective, we’re really challenging some of the stigmas involved.”

A 2018 report by the mental health charity, Mind, states that ‘spending time in green space or bringing nature into your everyday life can benefit both your mental and physical wellbeing.’

So, as well as getting the conversation going, organisers want to bring people into the outside world, to enjoy all of the best sights that Bristol has to offer.

All proceeds from the walk will go towards raising money for Off The Record Bristol, a charity which supports those with mental health problems.

OTR runs a variety of workshops including nature projects, art therapy and stress management.

Organisers chose to support this charity as they believe it takes on a modern approach in supporting mental health by empowering young people.

Participants could complete the walk at any point between 10am until 6pm. All you had to do was pick your desired time slot, and set off from the starting line at your own leisure.

Project WalkToTalk starting line
Project WalkToTalk starting line
Project WalkToTalk Founder, Ben West, on College Green
Project WalkToTalk Founder, Ben West, on College Green

The walk is the second of it’s kind, with WalkToTalk Founder, Ben West, having started the project last year.

“I set up project WalkToTalk after my brother died from suicide, me and a group of friends had this idea to do a charity walk to raise awareness for teenage mental health, and throughout the year that kind of spiralled into what became a 200km walk, that ended in the Houses of Parliament,” he said.

“After that we got in touch with some students from Bristol uni and they said they’de do our second one, so here we are today with Project WalkToTalk number two.”

Ben hopes that the Bristol project will make even the slightest difference in making mental health an easier conversation.

“We don’t have to change the world today, we just have to change one person’s world,” he said.

Event Organiser, Daisy Hewitt
Event Organiser, Daisy Hewitt

Event organiser and UOB student, Daisy Hewitt, explains how they decided not to put a timer on the walk. They wanted to allow people to take as much time opening up, instead of making it a competition.

“Along the route we’ll be having some thought provoking phrases around, so you can read those with the people that you’re walking by, and have a discussion about that,” she said.

Participants could choose from one of two routes, either the half marathon (13 miles) or the 6 mile shorter option. Regular checkpoints with marshals giving out food made the circuit something accessible and achievable for all.

Clifton Crusaders Rugby Team member, Oisin O’Maolain, has struggled with depression for as long as he can remember, and took part in the walk with some of his team mates.

Prior to the event, he explained what his hopes were for the day.

“For people to see a rugby team involved in something like this, with mental health, because there is such a stigma in rugby, like the phrase ‘man up’ being thrown around quite a lot,” he said.

“We want to, even in the smallest possible way, continue to break down that stigma.”

WalkToTalk participants, Georgia and Emily
WalkToTalk participants, Georgia and Emily

Another walker, Georgia, believes that the event is a great way to fundraise for charities like OTR.

“I think mental health is just not talked about enough, and this is a really good way to get it out there and get people talking,” she said.

The project has been sponsored by Clifton College, as well as gaining support from businesses such as Friska and No.1 Harbourside, by giving out free or discounted coffee and cake to walkers on the day.

Busying around the event space this morning, organisers barely had time to stop and chat to us but remained in an obvious state of excitement for the day ahead.

Good weather and a huge turn out brought with it the hope that this day would shine a more positive light on mental health, breaking down the stigma one step at a time.

This is definitely not the end for Bristol’s WalkToTalk, with plans for something similar to be taking place during Freshers week this September.

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