Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hug Train helps put squeeze on depression

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We all need a hug once in a while, right?

That's the idea behind Arié Moyal's campaign called Hug Train.

Moyal is travelling across North America by train and stopping in more than 15 cities, offering hugs to strangers and raising awareness and funds for mental health.

Moyal was in Winnipeg on Monday morning for a quick stopover. He gave German traveller Anne Maeder a hug at Union Station and then headed out to The Forks Market with his bright pink "Free Hugs" sign to share the love.

"It was good, a little cold," Moyal said, adding the cold was countered by the warm enthusiasm with which he was met. "One woman ran up and said she'd always wanted to get a free hug."

However, not everyone is keen for hugs from strangers.

"The reactions you get aren't always going to be positive, but the point isn't to get hugs, it's to get people thinking," Moyal said.

A self-proclaimed citizen of the world, the successful entrepreneur has lived in several countries. His goal is to spread happiness around the holiday season -- a time when the stresses of preparing for family celebrations, or not having anyone to celebrate with, can be a real downer. Moyal admits travelling across the continent alone can also be lonely, but says it's part of the experience.

"When you're a guy with a pink free hugs sign and a plaid Santa hat, you stand out of the crowd, so it's not too bad," he said.

This time of year is also known for a specific type of clinical depression, called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Symptoms can include change in appetite, weight gain and fatigue.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), about 15 per cent of Canadians experience mild SAD.

Money raised during the Canadian leg of Hug Train will go to the CMHA. Moyal is hoping to raise a couple of thousand dollars for CMHA, but said the trip itself will cost around $3,000. Support for Moyal's costs comes from crowd donations, sponsorships and from generous people who offer shelter or food.

Moyal began the Hug Train in 2009 as a quasi-vacation when a Global Hug Tour he had planned to participate in fell through. His solo trip across the U.S. was successful and Moyal intended to do the trip again. In 2010 he lost a good friend to mental health issues and considered quitting the tour, but thought better of it.

Instead Moyal decided to continue the Hug Train in his friend's memory. He is now off to Jasper, Alta., but will return to Winnipeg on Dec. 12 for the finale of Hug Train, in case you're in need of a good hug. Moyal said everyone is invited to Union Station to greet the train at 8:30 p.m.

danielle.dasilva@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 3, 2013 B2

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