Sarah Mcfarlane-Eagle is walking from Armidale to Melbourne in honour of her brother and to raise awareness of mental health issues.
She first did a long walk in 2001, 10 months after her brother disappeared.
“We had made plans to walk the Bubbulmun track in WA,” Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle said.
“Instead of doing it with him, I did it for him”.
Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle’s brother Ben suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
The symptoms started to appear when he was a teenager and it took a while to get an accurate diagnosis.
Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle described her brother as a quirky, gentle and a generous person with a love for nature.
“He was a qualified gardener and worked full-time; he didn’t really drink and did not take drugs”.
Ben came home from a short trip to Europe and was not well. His psychiatrist swapped the medication he was on due to their long term effects and the new medication was not helping.
Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle took her brother to Emergency when things were reaching crisis point.
“I was told I could have Ben admitted but this would make him worse as he would be in a psych unit surrounded by people in a worse situation,” she said.
“Or I could take him back home and have a crisis team visit the house twice a day”.
She took Ben back home as she thought she was perhaps overreacting. However, a different group visiting the home each day was not conducive to getting Ben better. He would not reveal how he felt, and he really needed continuity of care she said.
The family found Ben running across a six lane highway, an event which Ben himself could not recall; and decided to take him to their family holiday spot at Mount Baw Baw in Victoria. It was from here that he disappeared.
After a coronial inquest a death certificate was produced. Ben was 29 years of age.
Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle said her family found it stressful having a member with a mental illness.
“We didn’t understand it and we didn’t know where to get help,” she said.
“Some people think their situation is not bad enough to get help but that is not true”.
By completing the walk Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle hopes to raise awareness of mental health issues and to reduce the stigma attached to having a problem. She encourages everyone to take steps towards self care and to speak openly about mental health issues.
Along the walk Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle is fundraising for the charity SANE.
“There is a serious shortage of funding in mental health,” she said.
“I would like to thank those that have made donations to SANE already, and to Scone Motor Inn for providing me with accommodation along the walk.”
In Sydney Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle is hoping to walk across the harbour bridge with leading mental health expert Professor Patrick McGorry.
She will then pass her relay baton onto Terra-Mer Lilirra in Melbourne who is doing the ‘Happy Walk’, a six-year walk around Australia to raise awareness for mental health issues.
Ms Mcfarlane-Eagle will arrive in Melbourne on September 10 to coincide with National Suicide Prevention Day.
She encourages people to get more information by visiting www.sane.org or www.walkingfeat.com