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Centre Wellington councillor walking to Ottawa for mental health awareness

Neil Dunsmore is raising funds the Cody Shepperd Project and wants those struggling to know they can reach out for help
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Centre Wellington councillor Neil Dunsmore is raising funds for the Cody Shepperd Project to end the silence around mental health struggles. Keegan Kozolanka/GuelphToday

CENTRE WELLINGTON – Centre Wellington councillor Neil Dunsmore will be walking to Ottawa to stop the silence around mental health struggles and services.

On Sept. 5, Dunsmore will be leaving from the township office in Elora and will begin the over 500 km trek to Ottawa over the course of the month. 

In a phone interview, Dunsmore said the Centre Wellington community has a mental health crisis that is unacknowledged. 

“What I found mostly is that people are unaware that it’s a big problem and with COVID-19, I think it will become a bigger problem,” Dunsmore said. 

He wants people who are struggling to know there are options for help. He shared a comment he’s heard from mental health workers that many who die from suicide have not reached out for crisis services.

“There are life-saving people who can help and they’re not being accessed at the rate they need to be accessed at,” Dunsmore said. 

“I just don’t want anyone sitting alone and thinking life isn’t worth living. They can pick up the phone and can find somebody who cares, somebody who will talk to them and stick with them.”

This won’t be an easy walk for the 58-year-old with bad knees. He has been extensively training to be able to walk at the necessary pace of at least 30 km per day. 

He said he has scheduled extra days for rest, in case of bad weather and for other unknown surprises such as trail closures or new roads that aren’t on the maps. 

A close team will be towing a tent trailer to use instead of hotels. 

Dunsmore is raising funds for the Cody Shepperd Project which supports people and families affected by mental health issues and suicide. Cody Shepperd was a Centre Wellington District High School student and athlete who died from suicide in 2017.

Their motto is “Stop the Silence,” which Dunsmore said goes along with his belief that communication is key. 

“Stopping the silence matches with the message that I want to give,” Dunsmore said. “We have to talk to each other and when we are struggling, we can’t sit in silence anymore.”

He chose Ottawa as his destination to bring government attention to the issue. He said he believes all levels of government need to take action to solve this issue.

His anticipated finishing date is Sept. 27 which coincides with the Police and Peace Officers’ Memorial Service in Ottawa.

He said the service will be cancelled this year because of COVID-19 but he will be meeting Senator Rob Black at the memorial. 

Dunsmore said three police officers who work or are from the community have died from suicide over the past five years. This hit close to home for him as a former correctional officer and crisis hostage negotiator. 

“We need to put it on the government’s radar,” Dunsmore said. “To me, it’s the biggest health crisis we’re going to face after the pandemic and it may even be bigger than the pandemic.”

Those interested in sponsoring Neil Dunsmore by donating to the Cody Shepperd can do so at this link.