Hope will stop in at schools along the route to discuss mental health awareness
Mental health ambassador, author and campaigner Hope Virgo will take on the gruelling challenge of cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groates - that’s over 1,000 miles - and will be managing her own recovery from anorexia throughout.
The cycling challenge comes on the heels of the “Make Mental Health Education Compulsory in all UK Schools” petition from May 2018, which successfully triggered a debate in Parliament, which led to new legislation being brought in July 2018.
The government has recently announced plans to implement mental health education into the curriculum in 2020, but Hope, along with Shaw Mind Foundation and ride sponsor Priory Group, have created this initiative for those who can’t wait until 2020. What happens to the children and young people who need guidance and support now? Well, Hope’s on the way.
Starting on 24 September, the Stand Tall Little Girl author will be calling in at schools and colleges to offer free mental health awareness talks to children and young people - offering information, advice and guidance on how and where to get the right support. Hope will be stopping at one school every weekday of the challenge, which some days will see her cycling more than 80 miles a day.
“Growing up I had always had quite a funny relationship with food and found it very difficult to express my emotions. I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I battled on regardless. I remember vividly lying awake at night just before I was admitted to a mental health hospital feeling completely alone.
"I would have most likely spent that evening vomiting, arguing and exercising in my room. It was those nights that I wanted to end my life altogether. I felt trapped and saw no way out,” Hope said. “After a year of intensive treatment I felt equipped to fight this anorexic voice in my head.”
Mental ill health can affect anyone at any time, regardless of their financial situation or where they may live, which is why it’s so important to find a way to reach as many people across the UK who may not have access to support and information, Hope stated.
“Since my book was published, I now spend time working in schools, hospitals and with corporates. I have experienced first hand the difficulties that people go through, the struggles that young people feel, and the isolation they often feel unable to manage,” Hope said.
“It is unfair that we live in a society where some people can access mental health education but others can’t. It shouldn’t be down to how much money you have or the facilities at your schools. Mental health affects all of us and that is why we need to keep raising awareness and get everyone talking.”
“I decided to cycle across the UK about six months ago and being a completely novice cyclist and a keen runner I felt slightly nervous. I knew that not only would it be challenging to cycle that far but, for me, managing to fuel my body would be tough. Part of my anorexia had been tied up in excessive exercise and whilst I knew I could take on this challenge (mainly because I am stubborn), I knew from the onset I would have to watch my food.
"For me it has become vital that I look at food as fuel and not as calories or something that I have to have. This bike ride has helped me push the boundaries of my anorexia and helped me to learn that it is totally okay to fuel and eat different foods. At times that anorexic voice has beaten me up, but I now feel stronger than ever to beat it and I certainly will not let it jeopardise my bike ride.”
“I want to use my challenge to show that recovery is possible and to show everyone that it is one hundred percent okay to talk about how we feel. Having anorexia doesn’t make me weak, it makes me resilient and strong and a fighter.”
If you’re interested in helping to sponsor Hope, you can do so here.