Walking and Talking about Mental Health

A few people sitting upon a rock, looking out towards a lake 

My family have always loved walking. We walk not just because we adore being outside but have also found it the best setting in which to tackle difficult conversations. In the summer of 2017 my brothers Orlando and Robin and I tackled one of the hardest conversations we’d ever had, about our brother Evelyn, who took his own life fourteen years ago aged just 22. After Evelyn’s death I remember categorically avoiding anything to do with talking about mental health or suicide, frightened of the doors in my mind it would open. Sadly however, in our desperation to cope, suddenly a decade had gone by and the three of us had not once talked about Evelyn together.

This began to change when two summers ago, Orlando suggested that we walk across the country together in Evelyn’s memory. There was one catch, however, it wouldn't just be us on the walk - a camera crew would be joining us to document the trip. Orlando is a filmmaker, and alongside Producer Joanna Natasegara, has worked to create films which focus on creating social change. So despite some reservations, myself and my family agreed to let the cameras follow us, hoping that sharing our story might also help others who have been through similar experiences of grief and loss.

Setting off from our mother’s home in the Cairngorms, our journey carried us across large parts of the Scottish Highlands, retracing paths we had walked together as kids and sharing a grief that up to that point we had been unable to acknowledge. It was an immensely painful but also rewarding journey. We broke years of silence and as we walked, we talked about our brother, what happened to him and how we have been affected as a result of his death.

Over those five weeks we endured everything the Great British outdoors could throw at us. We got soaked to the skin in pouring rain, bitten by clouds of midges, battered by howling winds. But we also traversed some of the UK’s most epic mountain areas, sauntered along beautiful stretches of coast and went wild swimming at every given opportunity. We cried, we ached, we laughed and are so much closer as a result of our journey.

Small group of people, wearing hiking backpacks, hugging on a hill in front of a valley

What also resulted from the walk was the documentary - Evelyn - now screening in UK cinemas. As part of the film's release, we have been working with The Ramblers, alongside some other inspirational mental health organisations, inviting audiences to join us for ‘walk and talks’ across the country. It has been utterly amazing to see people coming together to get some fresh air and stretch their legs after each film screening - total strangers talking about their own experiences and sharing stories.

I remain a huge advocate of spending as much time outside as possible, come rain or shine. On Time to Talk day, if you get a chance, do get out and have a walk too. The Ramblers have a new resource of top tips for walking and talking, which is a great starting point. You can also visit the Evelyn film website, to read more about the film - including organising your own screening (plus walk and talk) in your local community.

Find a group walk to join.

Hear from Gwennie about the making of the movie and how the family dealt with their loss. You can also view the video on YouTube.