Exercise can have a positive impact on mental health as Jake McManus, a 42-year-old self-employed electrician from Wigan, knows only too well.
McManus has had mental health problems since childhood but a chance encounter with rock climbing has revolutionised his approach to the illness.
Jake tells us his story…
‘You couldn’t say that climbing has changed my life – it’s done more than that’
Back in 2012 I was in a heavily-medicated state to treat my severe psychotic depression. I had to have a nurse coming to check me every day otherwise I would have been admitted to hospital.
While lying on the sofa one day I caught some of a TV interview with professional climber Alex Honnold. He was talking about fear and anxiety and I thought ‘I understand that’.
That brief interview led me to watching his film Alone on the Wall and there and then I decided to come off medication and learn to climb.
If only it was that simple. Initially simply leaving the house wasn’t easy. Through a wish to learn how to climb I managed to start working again and put a little money aside. I spent around six months parking outside climbing gyms and being too scared to go in to book a beginners’ course. I was worried about a lack of fitness, my age, social anxiety and learning how do something new.
I suppose my biggest fear was simply fitting in with all these athletic, super human-type people I’d been watching in videos. This was a huge mistake because in reality climbers come in all shapes, ages and sizes and most people who can walk up a flight of stairs can climb a route or even a mountain.
There are climbers who are blind or with limbs missing – my mate GB paraclimber John Churcher has 3% tunnel vision and is deaf – he still climbs harder than me.
All my previous insecurities are still there but now I know there are thousands of others who have the same emotions, maybe for different reasons, but the outcome is the same in many ways.
Three days after finally going for it and climbing for the first time I had climbed a 150m ridge in Spain. I decided that I’d found something I knew was changing my life and that other people needed to know. A month later I started a blog called Climb Out – the first time I had ever told anyone apart from my wife and my doctors about my lifelong mental health problems.
Two years later Climb Out is thriving and I spend up to 40 hours a week maintaining the site and answering emails from all over the UK, and the world.
I think people use me as a bit of a metaphor – if that fat, old geezer can get to the top of stuff then maybe I can get out and do something.
I have had emails from people who have mental health problems saying that they have read the website and it has led them to getting out and taking the dog for a walk for the first time in two years.
People don’t literally have to climb out – it is about encouraging people to do something to get out because being active can have a really positive impact on mental health.
My wife also climbs and has got a community of friends through climbing. She’s lost three stone, goes to the gym a lot and is a lot more active. The youngest of my two sons also climbs with us.
It is an all-consuming sport that really helps with mental health problems. When you are climbing you are using all points of your body – you instantly focus on the task in hand because falling is a pretty real fear for most people.
Climbing isn’t a cure. In October 2013 I was severely delusional and in a bad way. The doctor recommended hospital but I chose to go off and climb in Spain instead. Climbing has given me that outlet that I didn’t have before.
Hearing other people’s stories through Climb Out and answering emails is a very therapeutic thing for me. I am looking at expanding it so that it is a nationwide community for people to be open about their mental health and be mentored by each other.
Without climbing I think I would still be heavily medicated – there was no way out for me at that time. Financially we were getting in serious trouble because I was self-employed and not able to work.
Three years later I am off medication. Myself and my family have loads of friends through the sport and a growing online community encouraging people with mental health issues to Climb Out.
I am hoping to climb on the Matterhorn in Austria this year. Next year I’ll be the overweight geezer in a group climbing some ridges in Patagonia that have never been climbed before. A far cry from my sofa in Wigan.”
Jake McManus was talking to BBC Get Inspired’s Tom Reynolds