Around 1 in 4 of us will suffer a mental health problem every year in the UK. Dialogue around issues such as anxiety and depression is slowly opening up, but the stigma dies hard. Too often, these illnesses remain clouded in shame. Around the world, people still struggle to articulate or understand what it means not to be OK.
Now, one woman is on a mission to change the situation – starting with remote communities in the Australian outback. Mental health is an issue that resonates with Edwina Robertson; she has first-hand experience of depression and burnout. The 32-year-old wedding photographer suffered a breakdown shortly before she embarked on her solo travel journey through the Australian bush earlier this year.
Breaking free from the grind
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If you can't get A La Naturale in nature, well when the bloody hell can you?! ? PS I hadn't passed a car for three hours today and I had literally been in the water for five minutes until my serene skinny dip was abruptly disturbed by sticky- beaking tourists. Murphy's Law, you win again, but it was nice while it lasted. @wanderofthewest @cuinnt @ausoutbacknt @kuntrygram #ausoutbacknt #australia #cuinthent #wanderofthewest #kuntrygram #seeaustralia
“I’ve had depression several times and literally three weeks before I left on this journey, I was hospitalised,” Edwina told Australian TV show 60 Minutes, in a special edition focusing on her adventure this week. “I call it my mental breakdown. I’d pushed myself to a point, you know, always about the money, always about working harder, keeping up with the Jones’s. I had just burnt out. I didn’t even know who I was.”
Eddy’s so-called “Wander of the West” journey represented a break from the chaos, and a way forward amid the turmoil. “It’s wandering, because I don’t actually know what I’m doing!” she says.
A journey of awareness
“Eddy” as she’s known, doubted whether she should go ahead with her travels as planned, after her depressive episode earlier this year. “The last fortnight has been really bloody tough and has seriously made myself and many others reconsider that going on my trip may not be for the best,” she wrote on an Instagram post in May. “Yet after much consideration and support, in six days @wanderofthewest goes ahead. From this post, all I ask is that you ask one friend, ‘Are you OK?’ Because even the strongest, got-their-shit-together, independent people can be feeling low and you may simply not know it.”
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In a huge act of courage, Eddy set out, travelling in a 1979 Toyota Land Cruiser through the isolated landscape of Western Australia. She journeyed for three months, hitting the road alone with only her dog (a Border Collie x Cocker Spaniel known as Jordie) for company.
Amazingly, the trip cost nothing. Eddy exchanged her photography skills for food, petrol and housing provided by the people she met along the way.
Breaking the stigma
Eddy wanted to use her trip to raise awareness around mental health issues, especially the way in which they impact rural communities in Australia. She believes there’s “a huge social divide” between urban Australians and those who live in the bush. Not only do “bushies” feel cut off from the rest of Australia, they also struggle with major issues such as drought.
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“With hard times comes mental illness, comes depression, comes suicide,” she explains. “These people don’t have the access that everyone else has to get help and there is a stigma. There’s a stigma everywhere but its harder in the bush.”
As part of her mission, Eddy launched a campaign via her photography to raise $40,000 (around £30,000) for the provision of a clinical counsellor in a remote Australian community.
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100 days on the road with no cashola and didn't die! How about that for an achievement?! Just wrote a bloody big long Facebook post on the @wanderofthewest page if you want an in depth recap of what went down over the last three and a bit months but in a nutshell, WOTW was the best thing I have ever done and I'm a little out of sorts that it's now over. Thanks for all your support and encouragement along the way. There certainly were some shitty days and I hope you found enjoyment as much as I did in the good ones. Peace out legends, I'm going to catch up on some ?. @australia @traveloutbackaustralia #adventure #wanderofthewest #australia #travel #traveloutbackaust #exploreuluru #photography
Most of all, Eddy’s journey has been a testimony to community spirit and generosity. No matter the challenges we face, it’s easier if we do so together.
“I spend 600km on a dirt road a day and I don’t feel isolated at all,” Eddy said at the time. “I know people are looking out for me and that’s what the bush is about. I want to represent the bush and help the people I admire so much and help them have a little bit of say in society.”
Images: Shutterstock, @edwinarobertson/Instagram.
See more of Edwina’s wedding imagery on edwinarobertson.com