UNE gift helps Sarah’s work for mental health

Published 02 February 2011

sane-chequeA gift from the University of New England will help Sarah McFarlane-Eagle in her mission to raise Australians’ awareness of – and active concern about – the prevalence of mental illness in their society.

Last week the Vice-Chancellor of UNE, Professor Jim Barber, presented Sarah with a cheque for $4,554, representing half of the money raised in 2010 through the University’s annual “Celebration of Sharing” – a series of charity fund-raising events organised by UNE staff members.

“It’s wonderful to be supported by the university I’ve been studying at since 2003,” said Sarah, who will graduate in April with an Honours degree in Psychology.

On the 8th of August she will leave Australia for Japan, where she will undertake a 2,400-km walk in support of SANE Australia, a national charity working for a better life for people affected by mental illness.

This will be the third major walk that Sarah has undertaken in support of SANE Australia since her brother Ben disappeared in 2001 during his final psychotic episode. Her studies in psychology at UNE have helped her along the path to a deeper understanding of mental health issues, and she will be graduating just a few months after the 10th anniversary of Ben’s disappearance.

Sarah’s route in Japan will incorporate the Shikoku 88-temple and the Kannon 33-temple pilgrimages, and pilgrimages to Koya San and Ise. Through her previous walks (Bibbulmun Track, Western Australia, 600 km in 2001, and France to Spain, 1,750 km in 2005) she raised $25,000 for SANE Australia, but she regards those walks as just a “warm-up” for the walk in Japan, which will take three-and-a-half months. “This time I’m aiming to get as much community support as possible,” she said.

Her preparation schedule between now and August includes giving public awareness-raising talks, finding sponsors and recruiting fund-raising volunteers, and selling commemorative T-shirts that she plans to produce using the gift from UNE. Her schedule also includes training for both physical fitness and mental resilience – doing a 25-km walk once a week (on which everyone is invited to join her) and practising meditation.

Throughout her walk she will be accompanied by a support person, Joseph Wright, who will be documenting the journey and making a film about it. “Everyone is welcome to join us on the walk through Japan or on any part of it,” she said, or to assist through donating or fund-raising. We’re encouraging everyone to get involved in raising awareness of mental illness and the promotion of mental health.”

Professor Barber told Sarah that it gave him great pleasure to present her with the cheque. “Everyone has such admiration for you,” he said, adding: “One of the things I most admire about the Australian character is the capacity to turn grief into action.”

A cheque for the other half of the money raised through UNE’s “Celebration of Sharing” campaign last year was presented before Christmas to the local community program Paws Up, which enables disadvantaged teenage boys to care for and train Border Collie puppies and travel with them to dog high-jumping competitions.

THE PHOTOGRAPH displayed here expands to show Professor Barber presenting Sarah McFarlane-Eagle with the cheque.