Conquering mental illness one mountain at a time

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MINDvsMOUNTAIN

For millions of Canadians, overcoming a mental illness can feel like climbing a mountain. For one Vancouver man, climbing a mountain is his way of overcoming his mental illness, with MINDvsMOUNTAIN.

The idea for MINDvsMOUNTAIN came after Brent Seal, founder of mental health organization/adventure company Mavrixx, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2007 while studying business at Simon Fraser University (SFU). Following a suicide attempt, he began dreaming of climbing Mount Everest.

“It sort of came out of nowhere, I wasn’t even a hiker or a runner or anything at the time,” Seal told Vancity Buzz. “It was just a dream, a tangible way to show people that you can go from suicide attempts to the top of the world. I just wanted to pursue that journey.”

With the support of his classmates, friends, family, and the programs like the B.C. Early Psychosis Intervention Program, Seal graduated from SFU as valedictorian of his class. But Everest still sat at the back of his mind.

“Everybody at the time told me ‘Hey Brent, we’re trying to get back to reality, maybe just set the goal to get back to school.’ So I always sort of parked the dream to the side, and forgot about it, but it just kept coming back,” he says. “I got into hiking, trail running, backpacking, and eventually mountaineering. It just started to become more real.”

Now, with MINDvsMOUNTAIN, Seal is finally ready to start his journey. Following a launch event on Friday, September 25, Seal will take the first step towards climbing Mount Aconcagua in Argentina, Mount Denali in Alaska, finishing with the biggest of all, Mount Everest.

The climbs will mark the first recorded time the mountains will be scaled by someone living with schizophrenia. The order of the mountains was also carefully selected by Seal.

“There’s a training component,” he says. “I’m using the first couple climbs to build up to Everest. Aconcagua prepares me for Denali, which prepares me for Everest”

The kick off event this Friday will feature speakers, including Keli Anderson, founder and CEO of the Institute for Child and Youth Mental Health and Ravil Chamgoulov, who has summited hundreds of peaks in his mountaineering career. Jane Thornthwaite, MLA for North-Vancouver Seymour, will also be in attendance, and there will be healthy food and drinks from the Juice Truck.

With plans to turn his journey into a documentary, as well as a book, Seal just hopes that – if anything – it can show youth dealing with mental illness that there is hope, and there is help.

“That’s the purpose, to get the word out that mental illness doesn’t hold me back,” he says. “It doesn’t have to hold back any youth either – whether it’s depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, or bipolar.”

MINDvsMOUNTAIN Launch Event

When: Friday, September 25; 6 to 8 p.m.

Where: The Juice Truck – 28 West 5th Avenue, Vancouver

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Shawn O'Hara Shawn is a Staff Writer at Vancity Buzz. He loves writing about news, arts, movies, comedy, and culture. Some would argue Shawn is too old to still play Dungeons & Dragons. Shawn would disagree.

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