Peer Support Australia's annual Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon has returned for 2020 and organisers believe the event for young people has never been more crucial.
They say Australian children have been experiencing heightened levels of loneliness and isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, with 40 per cent of young people reporting concern for their mental health during the pandemic.
That's why Peer Support Australia is encouraging students around the country, including those from Parkes, to foster stronger relationships with their peers and participate on a day of their choice.
October is also National Mental Health Month.
"Our program has always been important but the mental health effects on school-aged children during COVID-19 have been even more prominent this year," Peer Support Australia CEO Greg Cantwell said.
"The 2020 Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon encourages students to talk to their peers and build relationships, which after a year of social distancing and disruption is much needed in Australian schools."
The event combines a traditional walk-a-thon with aspects of relationship building and mental well being.
The format of the event is designed to be flexible, with the walk's distance, location and participating year levels able to be adapted to suit each school's needs.
Participation is free and schools can register to participate by heading to www.peersupport.edu.au. Registered schools will receive a Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon tool kit.
During the walk, students are encouraged to talk to their peers, develop new friendships and strengthen their relationships within their school community.
According to Black Dog Institute Australia, young people turn to friends and parents for support first and then the internet.
Mr Cantwell said the purpose of the Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon is to encourage communication and exercise, which are vital building blocks towards good mental health.
"This year has been an unsettling time for students and teachers alike," he said.
"Some children and young people are still experiencing disruption to their routine and usual school rituals such as graduations and other celebrations."
With a handful of schools across the country still experiencing disruptions, which are planned to last throughout the remainder of 2020, this year's Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon is designed to be flexible and able to adapt to whatever format schools are currently operating.
"The great thing about the Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon is how it caters to the different needs of students and schools regardless of whether they are at school or a mixture of school based and remote learning," Mr Cantwell said.
"We are especially encouraging schools that are recommencing in-person teaching to use the Talk-and-Walk-a-Thon as an opportunity for students to reconnect, while remote learning students can use the talking points included in our toolkit to start online conversations."