A medical education centre manager is preparing to climb the highest peak in Wales in the dark to raise awareness of mental health conditions.
Leanne Benson, Postgraduate Medical Education Manager at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, is in training for the night climb up Mount Snowdon on May 11.
Leanne, who is from Lancaster and has worked for University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust for 27 years, said her sister, Mel Benson, is her inspiration for climbing Snowdon.
Leanne said: “Mel has bipolar disorder and severe anxiety. She also suffered a major stroke in 2016 which exacerbated her mental health conditions and, in turn, restricted her physical ability to recover.
“There is still stigma around people with mental health issues. It can be very challenging. I want to help to reduce the stigma by talking openly about mental health.”
Leanne’s aim is to help people to be more understanding and supportive when someone is affected by bipolar disorder or any form of mental illness.
The Snowdon challenge has been on Leanne’s “bucket list” for a number of years as she has also climbed the highest mountains in Scotland and England – Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike. At 3,560ft (1,085 metres) above sea level, Snowdon is the highest point in the UK after Ben Nevis.
Leanne has covered her own expenses for the challenge so all funds raised will go to her chosen charity, Mind.
A former volunteer for the Territorial Army (TA), Leanne has already raised £520 for Mind through her online donation page and is hoping to raise more money to help people with mental health conditions in Lancashire.
She said: “I have previously done charity events such as Red January for mental health awareness, Race for Life for Cancer Research UK and half marathons for the Meningitis Trust.
“Post Mel’s stroke, I became a full-time carer for her and her young boys for a number of months.
“Doing regular exercise during this difficult period of time and during my return to work really helped me with my own mental health. It enabled me to continue with life and work.”
Mind reports that one in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem in any given year.
The charity promotes the fact that mental health is just like physical health; everybody has it and we need to take care of it.
Leanne said: “I had to cope with a lot of stress and anxiety when Mel had her stroke.
“Carrying on with work has been challenging but my colleagues have been amazing and extremely supportive.
“As a team and as a department we have all overcome a lot of things. We look after each other and that is lovely.
“The counselling and CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) support I received from UHMBT Occupational Health was extremely helpful. It enabled me to be able to talk in a safe and supportive environment and allowed me to release the pressures I was undergoing at the time.
“From my point of view as a manager, I sometimes feel I’m not expected to talk about mental health problems but the more people who do talk about it, the easier it is for people say how they are feeling and receive help. It can also change attitudes and improve understanding of conditions like bipolar disorder.”
Leanne is in training for the Snowdon challenge and has done a long walk every weekend since February to prepare for the night hike.
Setting off from the town of Llanberis in Snowdonia National Park just before midnight on May 11, Leanne and her fellow walkers will scale Snowdon and see the sunrise over Snowdonia national park.
Funds raised will enable Mind to continue providing advice and support to empower people like Mel who are experiencing mental health problems.
If you would like to donate to Leanne’s fundraising efforts, please go to: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=LeanneBenson&pageUrl=1
For more information and support, go to: www.mind.org.uk and search ‘bipolar disorder’.