OTTAWA – Centre Wellington councillor Neil Dunsmore completed hiswalk from Elora to Parliament Hill on Sunday.
Dunsmore walked over 500 kilometres walking to create awareness around support for those who struggle with mental health and suicide related issues.
The walk, called Steps to Stop the Silence, was about creating a conversation and making people okay with talking about their struggles and reaching out for help.
Along the way, he said he was humbled and heartwarmed by the people he met and the stories shared with him.
“Understanding how many people out there were struggling, they would just share openly and start talking,” Dunsmore said in a phone interview from Ottawa.
“Not all of them had mental health problems but almost all of them knew somebody who did and just having that conversation and that awareness was really heartwarming.”
During the journey, he ended up involved with two mental health crisis interventions.
A man from Scotland reached out to him over messenger and said that he was considering suicide. Dunsmore said he was able to connect the man with his family and they got him help.
Another instance he encountered a woman struggling emotionally and mentally along the trails and stayed with her while a women-in-crisis shelter picked her up.
“That right there is worth the journey,” Dunsmore said. “Those two interactions themselves were fabulous but there were many more.”
Dunsmore got a truly Canadian experience near Carleton Place, located about a 30 minute drive from Ottawa.
He sat and ate lunch while watching a nearby group of beavers build a dam.
“I thought ‘this is the most damn Canadian thing I have ever done in my life,’” Dunsmore said.
There was a moment where the walk may have ended if not for the kindness of strangers.
Dunsmore was faced with a long swampy trail near Tweed that he had no choice but to go through because he had lost some time detouring around washed-out trails.
He was preparing to walk through in sandals, to keep his shoes and socks dry, when an older man in a truck had a laugh at his situation before speeding off.
Another truck came with two young men, Jay and Wyatt, who insisted they drive him through this section as they had told Dunsmore it would be laden with bacteria and freezing cold.
When he got to his campsite that night he found blisters on his foot had popped.
“If I walked through that I would have been fighting infections for the last three to four days … that could have ended the walk,” Dunsmore said.
“I’m very beholding to those two young men who had the courtesy to take an old man through the swamp in the back of a pickup truck.”
Dunsmore was also raising money for the Cody Shepperd Project, an organization that supports people and families affected by mental health and suicide. Cody Shepperd was a Centre Wellington District High School student who died by suicide in 2017.
This walk has raised over $16,000 for the foundation.
“I’m blessed that Cody’s parents, Darcy and Paul, allowed me to do it in his honour,” Dunsmore said. “I really felt he (Cody) was with me a lot of the time, especially when I was lonely and fading.”
He was also humbled to have 30 people, all wearing masks and socially distanced, from Centre Wellington to greet him in Ottawa and walk the final 5 km to Parliament Hill on Sunday.
According to his step tracker, he took 795,184 steps to get to the flame on Parliament Hill but he said the journey doesn’t stop at the flame.
He stressed that seeking help needs to be seen as the sign of strength that it is and we all need to advocate for a better system.
“What we have to do is take the next steps together,” Dunsmore said. “People need to talk to their MPs and MPPs and push them to revamp mental health care system in this country.”
He encouraged the public to take a look at the people in their lives and try to recognize those who are struggling. He said a step we can take is to ask them if they’re okay and if they need help.
The last step in the journey is for the people who are struggling.
“If you’re thinking about suicide, do one thing for me, take one more step, get through today and tomorrow let’s take the step together and we’ll reach for help,” Dunsmore said.
Dunsmore said he’ll likely write a blog and maybe a book about his journey and what he learned along the way but another walk like this is not in the cards.
“I’m sorry, did I give you the impression that I would somehow do something this crazy again?”
Keegan Kozolanka, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, GuelphToday.com