Sarah Servante, Product Development and Partnerships Manager at Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, is taking on the challenge of climbing the highest mountain in North Africa. Expedition leaders responsible for the safety of climbers like Sarah are required to be trained in physical first aid, but not mental health first aid. Sarah hopes her trek can help address this imbalance by raising funds for much needed training.
In October 2018, to mark World Mental Health Day, a group of Mental Health First Aid advocates and supporters will be hiking Mount Toubkal in Morocco. Mt Toubkal is the highest mountain in North Africa, standing at 13,671ft – which is higher than the cruising altitude of light aircraft. I've never climbed anything like it – the highest I've climbed being just a quarter of that.
Right now, I'm undergoing physio on my back, so I'm not in the best shape I've ever been in, but I'm certainly up for the challenge, and I don't give up. My physio and I have recently decided that my back is now strong enough for me to return to running, and this will help me to build physical strength for the hike. However, I sprained my ankle on week two of training, which set me back almost as soon as I had started, and really got me down. It made me think about the importance of good mental health where physical challenges are concerned. Nobody said it was easy, eh?
So, why am I putting myself through this?
MHFA England is part of a global movement for change that encourages people to recognise that everyone has both physical and mental health. We train people to be able to keep others, and themselves, safe in the event of a mental health crisis. Alongside this, we encourage and enable more open and meaningful conversations, as well as support with what to do when someone doesn't just respond with 'I'm fine'.
We don't train people to be psychologists or therapists, just like a physical first aid course wouldn't teach you how to be a doctor or paramedic, but we do help them know how to get someone more support if they recognise that its needed. I am proud to work for MHFA England, and also to be both an Adult and a Youth MHFAider. Along with ten others, I am fundraising to train over 100 expedition leaders in MHFA, so that they can keep the groups they lead safe. It's been a while since I've done my Duke of Edinburgh award, but I know that whilst hikes are physically challenging, the biggest mountains to physical challenges are in the mind. Expedition leaders have to have physical first aid in case of accidents but aren't required to be able to keep people safe in the event of anxiety, psychosis or a panic attack (all of which are more common than you'd think at high altitude). This trek aims to start to change that.
Thank you in advance for your support, and for coming on this journey with me!
To keep track of Sarah’s progress, you can read her blog here.