Walking the talk and looking to be heard

Ella Rhodes reports on Walking the talk

A group of psychologists who are walking 100 miles to highlight the impact on austerity on mental health have reached their halfway point. Stephen Weatherhead, who has organised the walk, spoke of their journey so far.

He and around 20 others set off from New Walk in Leicester on Monday heading for London. They have visited food banks and homeless shelters along the way. The group is collecting the stories of those who have been impacted by government cuts and welfare reform, reframing mental health problems as not only a personal issue but one for which society is responsible.

Weatherhead said while en route to The Food Bank in Milton Keynes that the group was gathering more support each day. He said the support and encouragement the group had received along the way had been amazing, and added: ‘As well as shopkeepers letting us fill our water bottles and pubs allowing us to use their toilets, members of the public have been stopping us and asking what we’re up to and Tweeting about it.’

The group is aiming to highlight three areas in particular: the benefits system, homelessness and food poverty, and the effects that cuts and austerity measures are having on so many people in the UK. At each of the food banks and shelters they visit they are taking video or audio recordings of people’s stories and how their mental health has been affected by such cuts.

Weatherhead said the walk had already made him realise the difficulties faced by the homeless: ‘On a walk like this you’re focusing on food and the next place to sleep, hygiene takes a bit of a backseat. So many homeless people are judged by the way they smell or look and it’s sometimes easy to forget that these people have much more immediate priorities.’

The stark reality of life for people using food banks and struggling with their mental health, Weatherhead said, had struck him. He added: ‘In the food banks and shelters we’ve been to so far, people are losing hope. They’re saying that they don’t think the systems are going to change. They got some hope from what we’re doing.’

He told the story of one woman he met whose partner of 11 years had passed away: ‘Her mental health really suffered and she ended up on the streets and needed benefits, but I’ve heard so many times that there are simply too many hoops for people to jump through and they lose hope.’

‘We need to find a way to connect the policy makers with the people who are affected by these things. These people have the answers but they’re just not being heard or put into action.’

To follow the group’s progress see the twitter hashtag #walkthetalk2015 and to find out more about the cause and the route the walkers are taking see their website walkthetalk2015.org.

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