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October 25, 2021 |Blog

BMX champion Saya Sakakibara is encouraging young people to walk and talk for Mental Health Month

Peer Support Australia is delighted to welcome Saya Sakakibara on board as our ambassador. Saya is an alumni of the Peer Support Program, and passionate about mental health. She jumped at the opportunity to help promote wellbeing, including our annual Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon, among school students for Mental Health Month.

“I’m supporting Mental Health Month this year because I value mental health. I love how we’re talking about mental health so much more,” Saya says.

Although Saya is known for riding a bike, she also loves walking, and is encouraging schools to take part in this year’s Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon.

“I love talking and walking. I really enjoy going for walks, especially if it’s a nice scenic route,” she says. “And if you can do it with a friend, that’s even better. It makes you exercise, which is so good for your mental health, and you can talk through your problems or even just chat. And I think that is just the perfect combination.”

Saya is not alone in valuing walking and talking. More than 200 schools have registered to take part in this year’s Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon.

The event encourages students to connect with each other, while following a route and using different conversation cards along the way.

Human connection is vital to mental health

The Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon offers a great opportunity for schools to facilitate connections among their students in a way that is simple and non-threatening.

“I think that human interaction and human connection is so important to mental health,” Saya says. Saya said she had an epiphany about the importance of human connection while in hotel quarantine for 14 days upon returning to Australia from her trip to Tokyo for the Olympics.

“It’s those little ‘hellos’ and ‘how are yous’ when you see your neighbours and you see workers that build up over the course of the day. It ends up being quite a lot of human interaction. And being in isolation has really highlighted the fact I don’t have that, and it’s quite lonely.”

The Peer Support Program empowered Saya at school 

One of the reasons Saya is passionate about Peer Support Australia’s work is because she did the Peer Support Program throughout primary school, and in high school too. 

“I was a Peer Support Leader,” she says.  “That was a really fun experience. I felt so empowered.”

“Now that I think about it, it’s more about building those human interactions, learning about each other, and talking about things that we face in life. It’s also about opening up the conversation to say, it’s OK if you feel a certain way, and it is OK to lean on someone, and it’s OK to speak out and ask for help. Looking back, it was a really good program.”

It’s also important to connect to yourself 

Walking and talking is a great way to connect with others, but there’s also value in connecting with yourself. There’s an incredible feeling that comes with a heightened sense of being, like being lost in playing the guitar, painting a canvas, or swimming in the ocean. This is different for everyone, but for Saya, it’s hardly surprising she feels a sense of self on the bike.

“I think when I’m on my bike, it feels like I’m just connected; connected with my purpose and connected to what brings me happiness,” Saya says. “Sometimes being on my bike is stressful, like for a race or when I crash, but most times it’s amazing. I feel so good. I feel strong. I feel skilled. And I feel just feel overall connected with myself, and I think that’s what brings me back every single time.”

Saya has several strategies for looking after her own mental health, including journaling, meditating, talking to friends, and seeing a psychologist.

Saya says there are supports and tools available for young people to support their mental health. “You can reach out for help,” she says.

Find out more and register for the Talk-And-Walk-A-Thon here.