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This Group of People Walked From Pretoria to Cape Town for a Brilliant Reason

Why Global Citizens Should Care
The UN’s Global Goals call for action on achieving good health and wellbeing around the world, including through promoting mental health. The work of the Crazy for Walking campaign is a great step in this effort. You can join us by taking action here to support the Global Goals work for health. 

Close to 800,000 people die from suicide every year around the world — one person every 40 seconds, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 

Meanwhile, in South Africa, one in three will suffer a mental health episode in their lifetime and about 75% of sufferers reportedly don’t receive any help. 

The alarming rate of mental health issues and suicide in South Africa has now inspired a group of women and men to walk from Pretoria to Cape Town — spreading awareness about mental health along their way. 

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The campaign, Crazy for Walking, originally began as the dream of Hannetjie Buitendag. 

“I was further inspired by the lyrics of Koos du Plessis’s song “Sprokie vir ‘n stadskind”, “….as jy aanhou stap tien duisend ure, sal jy dalk daar kom… [if you keep walking for 10,000 hours, you may come there],” she told Global Citizen. 

“This made me wonder how far one can walk in 10,000 hours,” she continued. “The longest tangible distance I could imagine, as I travelled it from time to time, was from Pretoria to Cape Town…. and then this crazy idea of long-distance walking was born!” Buitendag said.

The Crazy for Walking initiative kicked off in 2017 with the first walk from Pretoria to Cape Town, aiming to promote mental wellness, and de-stigmatise mental illness through broadening awareness and understanding.

“Last year, we walked from Pretoria to Cape Town, a crazy feat in itself when you consider that there are many easier ways of getting from the one city to the other,” says Francois Louw, CEO of the Crazy for Walking initiative.

“You see, it’s not crazy to have a mental illness, but walking from Pretoria to Cape Town, now that’s crazy,” Louw added.

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The walkers arrived in Cape Town on October 10 2017, which is World Mental Health Day, having completed the 1500 km journey over five weeks. And this year, they've gone even further. Instead of just one walk, the organisation has launched multiple walking events across South Africa.

According to the organisation, stigma associated with mental illness is still a major barrier to treatment worldwide. 

“The reality is that even in modern society people who suffer from a mental illness are still being labelled as ‘crazy’.  Instead of avoiding the word ‘crazy’, we have embraced it head on.”

The walking element of the campaign falls in line with one of the elements of the “Happiness HELPS” tool, which is a guideline to follow for better mental health, according to the organisation’s spokesperson Lance Rothschild.

He said the HELPS elements are:

• Help others

• Exercise (where the group’s walking comes in)

• Learn

• Play

• Spiritual growth

“This year, the initiative aimed to involve the public with various walking events around the country in the week October 3-10,” Rothschild said.

The organisation said the Crazy for Walking app was released in September, and this app will allow people to not only keep track of the number of steps that they walk, but to challenge friends, colleagues, family members, competitors, and others, to get out and get walking.

“All the steps that are taken using the app will be totalled in a quest to do something really crazy — walk to Mars,” Louw said.

“The shortest distance between the Earth and Mars is 56 million kilometres,” he said. “This means that we will need to get about 75 billion steps walked in order to reach our goal.”

In addition to walking, people were urged to show their support for mental health by wearing their funkiest socks on October 10 — Crazy Socks Day.

“They can be part of the fun by sharing pics of your socks on various social media platforms,” Louw added. “Just by wearing your crazy socks, you will be playing a role in de-stigmatising mental illness and taking a step towards broadening awareness of — and empathy towards — mental illness.”

He said the organisation is aiming to remove the hurtful sting of the word “crazy” when it is associated with mental illness.

According to WHO, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds around the world. And, it adds, 79% of suicides occurred in low- and middle-income countries in 2016.

“Suicide accounted for 1.4% of all deaths worldwide, making it the 18th leading cause of death in 2016,” it says on its website.

WHO advises that effective and evidence-based interventions can be implemented at population-wide and individual levels to prevent suicide and suicide attempts.

The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.