Neil Hamilton realizes how long the journey ahead of him is, but his belief in the cause keeps pushing him forward, one foot at a time.
The Peterborough Ont. man is on a cross-country trek to raise awareness about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and mental health issues.
He went into training mid-December until arriving St. John’s over the Easter weekend and started walking.
While Spring weather conditions have been less than idle, Newfoundland was selected as his starting point for a reason.
“I know the people here are so good that it would inspire me through the hardest part, which is the first leg of this trip,” he said.
And as he was preparing to depart Gander, May 28, Hamilton said the people of Newfoundland never let him down.
People have offered him meals and places to stay, helped him fix gear and took part in walks.
“Every second person wants me to come in and have a meal, or have a drink and tell them what I’m doing,” he said. “My food tubs never get empty because people keep filling them back up.”
“It’s been a phenomenal experience.”
Making his way west, Hamilton covers 15-20 kilometres per day, carrying on average 150 pounds between a rucksack and tow behind cart.
Having choose a route that sees him stick to the railway beds as much as possible, even overnighting in a tent alongside the trail.
The warming huts have been a blessing during the dreary weather as it offers a place to dry out.
“I find the trail beds are nice and flat, and goes pretty much in a straight line, but coming into a city or town I’ll get on the highway to let people know I’m coming in,” he said.
Hamilton plans on passing through Grand Falls-Windsor early June and his overall trip could take him between a year and a half to two years.
But given the reception he’s gotten along the way, he says it could take a little longer.
“It’s been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
Walking with purpose
The 28-year-old’s dedication to mental health comes from personal experience. Hamilton was the first person on the scene of a serious road accident. He’s not a first responder, but as a bystander, he attempted to save two individuals in the collision. One of the people survived, but he was unable to save “Samantha,” for whom he named his walk.
After the experience, Hamilton quickly found something was not right with the way he felt.
“I started to change drastically as a person,” he explains. “I became withdrawn and violent and angry and very short tempered.”
He says within a couple of weeks he sought treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. He received six short counselling sessions with the Canadian Mental Health Association and then went on a two-year wait list for government-sponsored counselling.
“So, at that point I realized waiting around wasn’t going to help me, and it wasn’t going to help anyone else either. So (in December) I decided to embark on this trip.
“I always wanted to cross the country and I realized I could use it as a way to help people, spread awareness and start a conversation.”
Along the way, Hamilton is also having local conversations. He wants to shine a light and raise awareness as much as he can. His trip is about learning to understand and care for people affected by mental illness. He says everyone is affected by it.
“We’re great at taking care of other people in this country but, in a way, as a nation, we’ve almost forgotten how to take care of our own. There’s a rot at the core of our country and it’s the mental-health epidemic.”
He says talking is the first step; the second step is participation. He wants to see as many people as possible take part and get engaged.
The third part is educating oneself on facts and what services are out there, like the Canadian Mental Health Association.
“Just over 40 per cent of our national budget goes towards health services; 7.2 per cent goes to mental health services of that 40 per cent. That’s such a minuscule amount of the billions of dollars that is literally going toward saving people’s lives in some cases.”
To follow his trek, go to Hamilton’s Instagram: @neilhamilton91.
With files from The Packet.