“Mountains, to me, were a physical metaphor for hope”
Alex Staniforth is a record-breaking adventurer, author, Ellis Brigham ambassador and mental health campaigner. After being bullied as a child, Alex has used the mountains to rebuild self-confidence shape his adult life.
“Despite two attempts at climbing Mount Everest, I never saw myself as a mountaineer or climber. The mountains were simply my battlefield to take on the childhood epilepsy, stammer, anxiety and low self-confidence that bullying left behind. From a young age, outdoor challenges were the answer to put mind over these life mountains. In those early days of hillwalking, I found a sense of belonging; somewhere I was limited only by my own ability to keep going upwards, rather than self-doubts.
My first walk in the Lake District fells inspired me to dream big: now I had the confidence. Blencathra was impressive, but feeling young and invincible I set sights on Everest instead. The journey involved years of training, fundraising, disappointments and disaster striking twice. The journey to get there – meeting inspiring people, travelling the world and using these experiences to fundraise for charity – had enriched my life so much that the summits became insignificant. Most of all, it taught resilience, so I was better able to deal with the natural peaks and troughs of life.
As an adult, I was in the one in four people in the UK experiencing a mental health condition each year. Depression got me almost every winter, and the eating disorder bulimia was an ongoing battle. Mountains, to me, were a physical metaphor for hope – when the black clouds loom and the slope underfoot feels like an endless toil, there’s the chance of blue skies at the top. Of course, views weren’t always granted, which only made the process even more rewarding.
The long days of ‘type 2 fun’ pushed the internal threshold higher. The paradox is that taking the first step out of the door is often hardest when we need it most. I’ve always found the beauty of nature gives lots to be grateful for, even when depression tries to block it out. It’s more than simple endorphins – there’s something about the mountain environment that running or cycling just doesn’t deliver. Being surrounded by their sheer scale puts problems into perspective, and escaping our hectic lives cuts through the noise. After a day in the hills, everything somehow appears a little bit brighter.
Outdoor challenges gave me purpose. I had even discharged myself from conventional CBT therapy when training for another expedition did a much better job than pills. When back home in the Cheshire plains, I’d be lucky to get in the hills more than once a month. But they’re always there when I need a top-up. The liberty of the mountains is that we use them how we need.
Whether in the Himalayas or on Haystacks, watching the sunrise from a summit always gives me hope from higher places. I’ve crept out of many youth hostel dormitories at ungodly hours questioning the logic, but quickly found the answer. The mountains are no cure for the low troughs, but there’s always another peak to make them worthwhile.”
WIN AN MSR ELIXIR 2 TENT
Leading outdoor retailer and Mountains for the Mind supporter Ellis Brigham is giving away a brand new 2-person backpacking tent to help inspire your next overnight adventure. With easy-access StayDry doors, two large vestibules and an internal space optimised for living, it’s ideal for multi-day use.
How to enter
Entering is simple, just tell us what your next outdoor challenge will be, whether it’s attending an Ellis Brigham event or heading to the mountains before 16th May for a chance to win