FIRE and rescue station officer Stuart Parks hit the track to raise awareness of suicide and post-traumatic stress after a close friend took his life.
He walked the entire 1002km of the Bibbulmun Track from Albany to Kalamunda to raise $13,500 for Black Dog Institute and beyondblue.
The Gazette spoke to the father-of-three on Tuesday night as he kicked back to watch the sunset over the Waalegh camp, about 39km from Kalamunda.
Pleased to be on the home stretch and invigorated by his journey, Stuart talked about the need for more people to open up about mental health.
Midland firefighter Kevin Corbey was aged 48 when he took his life on July 31 last year.
Stuart said there were many questions left unanswered after working with the career firefighter and former police officer for more than 13 years.
“The suicide rate among emergency services personnel is high,” he said.
“Sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder tend to hide it quite well and may seem quite well on the outside.
“Kevin was never diagnosed with PTSD, but he definitely suffered from depression.”
As a team leader, Stuart encourages colleagues to seek help and make use of the many services available to firefighters.
“People who experience traumatic situations may not realise that over time the stress can build up; it accumulates and if they don’t seek help, it gets out of control.
“It’s like a bucket that fills up.
“Unfortunately men are not good at expressing their feelings and are inclined to bottle things up.
“There is still the fear of being judged as weak; it’s a cultural mindset that needs to change.
“I’ve worked as a peer supporter for 17 years and have been trained in critical incidents.
“Without that training and knowledge, I don’t know where I would be… a lot of people don’t have that,” Stuart said.
Stuart ends his walk in memory of Kevin today, a lonely journey that involved trekking up to eight hours a day for the past eight weeks.
His wife Barbara and three children will be glad to have him home.
“They knew it was something I wanted to do… the longest we had no contact for was 40 days and that was really hard.”
Over the weeks, he has shed 10kg after eating homemade dehydrated meals.
“When you dehydrate food, you lose the fat and though I didn’t really need to lose weight I’m feeling fit.”
He said wearing two pairs of socks every day saved his feet from blisters.
“You have to be comfortable in your own skin to walk the track and some days were harder than others.
“I just told myself a lot of people were doing it harder than me, and Kevin was at my side every step of the way.”
His bedtime reading each night was the book Wild written by Cheryl Strayed (a play on her life experiences).
The book-turned-movie follows the true story of her 1100-mile solo hike to recover from the loss of her mother.
Stuart kept daily accounts on his blog Trail Talk and on Facebook.
Support services for DFES firefighters:
Firefighters play an important role in our community and are generally highly resilient, but due to the nature of their work often face situations many of us will never encounter.
Like all of us, occasionally they need a helping hand.
DFES provides support services aimed at enhancing the psychological and physical health and wellbeing of the fire and emergency services community.
The DFES Wellness Branch coordinate a range of services including wellness support programs and training, which offer confidential assistance.
–Department of Fire and Emergency Services Wellness manager Anneliese Smith
If you or someone close to you needs help, call beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or visit Black Dog Institute .