Winter walk shines a spotlight on mental health issues


29-10-2013

Did you know that one in four of us will experience a diagnosable mental health issue during our lifetimes? That’s the reason Cambridge resident Stuart Jessup has been walking the length and breadth of Britain...

Stuart is becoming known for his long-distance walking.  Having spent eight months spanning the winter of 2011/12 walking round the edge of England, he is now tackling the Wales Coast Path, once again in winter.

He is walking the 800 miles of the Welsh coast from Chepstow to Chester and is currently on the Pembrokeshire coastline.  He is alone for most of the time, with the exception of Poppy, his springer spaniel who returned home to recuperate from a tail injury last week, and the occasional visit from his wife, Cambridge Network member, Kate Atkin of Aspire 2.
 
The walks aim to raise awareness of the statistic that one in four of us will experience a diagnosable mental health issue during our lifetimes.  Something the owners of Thorpe Park seem to have missed, having reverted to an old stereotype of mental illness in their newest “attraction” Asylum.  The stereotype was also shockingly reinforced by certain supermarkets’ Halloween outfits, but thankfully they did at least see sense and take them off the shelves when mental health charities pointed out the error of their ways. 

Stuart has been interviewed on many local radio stations, including BBC Radio Cambridge, about mental health and his own experience of managing depression, with articles about him appearing in the local and national press. He also walked a stretch of the Yorkshire coast with Claire Balding for BBC Radio 4's Ramblings programme. More recently he met the Welsh health minister in Swansea on 10th October, World Mental Health Day, an expression of the Welsh Government's commitment to supporting people with mental health issues.

Stuart says that all too often we judge something we don’t understand harshly.  By far the most common mental health issues are not those that make the headlines, but everyday anxiety and depression. It can be difficult to get help and support for these in today’s NHS, as when budgets and services are stretched, they may be seen as “not serious enough”.  This was highlighted recently by the Channel 4 programme 999 What’s Your Emergency which focused on mental health.

One of the most common questions Stuart is asked is, ‘why walk in the winter?’ He comments that winter is when incidents of depression and anxiety are at their highest, and that’s not just down to dark evenings or seasonal affective disorder or SAD.  The stress of Christmas on relationships and finances and the pressure to feel happy and have fun can be too much for some people.  So winter is an appropriate time to publicise this issue. It also fits into the academic year as he has taken a sabbatical from teaching.

Stuart is not just trying to help with raising awareness of mental stigma. He is also raising funds for the mental health charities SANE and Anxiety UK. He has raised over £14,000 so far to help these charities in their work to support people with mental health difficulties.

To find out more about Stuart’s Welsh coast walk, and his previous 2,500 mile walk around England, go to www.walkingontheedge.org.uk -  the website has a link to his Just Giving page for donations, and also his daily Facebook blog about the walk. 

You can also follow Stuart on twitter @waleswalk


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