For 40 years Jake McManus suffered from serious psychotic depression and has been searching for answers to his mental illness all his life. A year ago he discovered climbing and since then his depression has slowly been lifting and life has turned around for his family.
Jake attributes this to climbing and now he’s set up a website to share his journey and help others get outdoors and ‘Climb Out’ of their problems. We caught up with Jake to find out more about how climbing has helped him and how he’s spreading the word.
How do you feel that climbing is helping you climb out of depression? Is it the setting and achieving of objectives, the physical exercise, the social aspect, something else or all of the above? I’ve achieved things that surpass anything I dreamed of a year ago. I am forced into social situations I would have usually shunned and now have a diverse cross section of climbing friends in different parts of the world. I enjoy the outdoors and see places that only climbing would take me to.
There is strong scientific evidence which documents five steps of wellbeing. These are connecting with people, being active, learning new experiences, being aware of your surroundings and giving to others. Climbing offers all of these and the positivity then translates into your everyday life.
Is it a slow process or did you feel an instant change on discovering climbing? I felt an instant change just by getting outdoors ... I still do. Climbing takes you to some amazing places you would never know existed in the UK. There is also a deep rooted aspect of overcoming challenges, planning and socialising which eventually you arrange your whole life around.
How did you get into climbing? I caught some climbing movies by chance, the scenery was stunning and the climbers being interviewed spoke of fear, anxiety and a need to get away from it all. I think most of us can relate to that on some level. I did the Camino Del Rey in El Chorro for my 40th birthday in January 2013 and became friendly with climbers at the B&B I was staying at. I returned in February for a few days to learn the basics of sport climbing and became hooked.
Were there many challenges to overcome to learn how to climb? In hindsight it was just a lack of confidence. I wrongly presumed that climbing was an elitist activity. I was surprised when I realised you can learn the basics at an indoor wall in a few hours.
What do you hope to achieve by doing your blog and setting up the website Climb Out? I started a Facebook page last year to show people my journey of beating depression with climbing and the website is a continuation of that. The climbing community has been very good to me and I want to give something back. My life has really changed and I'm proud to say it's all because of climbing and I want to promote the sport to anyone who wants (or doesn't hee hee) want to listen. I hope to show people that you don’t need to be the best climber to benefit from it. We can all climb to own ability, it’s all relative.
Have you had a positive response to your website? It has been phenomenal. I started the site four weeks ago and it’s had over 3000 visits already. I owe a big debt to Tom Randall, Gordon Stainforth & UKC for getting behind Climb Out and openly supporting the cause. I also owe a lot of thanks for many people for passing the word around.
What’s next on the agenda for the website? I hope to start a network and possibly a forum where like-minded people can get in touch with each other. I want to put instructors, indoor walls and outdoor companies together with people who are interested in climbing and any outdoor activity. I also aim to organise events across the UK where people can get together without the stigma of who is depressed and who isn't. This will cost money so I have started a crowdfund project to try and help pay for this. I have a mental health professional supporting Climb Out to help me approach it in the right way.
What advice would you give someone suffering with depression on taking the first step into climbing? I once read a blog which said “reading this article about climbing means you're a climber ... you just haven't started yet”. I thought that was really good advice. I took a taster course at an indoor wall. I would suggest that people find some professional instruction then join a BMC club as I did. The club climbers vary in ability and are keen to help in a safe and controlled manner.
Do you have to be super fit to climb? No ... I've climbed with all ages and size of people. I'd never done any sports before climbing. There are routes for everyone and the beauty of climbing is that a novice can climb a route just yards away from a pro climber and experience the same challenges and success. Technique is more important, fitness will come naturally.
How did you hear about the BMC and decide to become a member? I simply googled "learn how to climb UK". I was amazed at the wealth of information and guidance. The videos are awesome, I still use these pretty often. I became a member so I could be secure in the knowledge that I always had somewhere to turn to. I also took advantage of excellent insurance while climbing in Turkey.
And what’s next for your climbing….? I would like to get into long multi-pitch climbing. I want to have the ability to climb whatever inspires me. The guys at Onfire Adventures are attempting The Snow Leopard award (summit all 5 peaks of 7000m and above located in the former Soviet Union) and asked me to tag along on a training exercise on the Cullin Ridge in April. I have plans to attempt all four faces of Naranjo de Bulnes this summer. I've never actually had a local climbing buddy… that would be nice.
Check out Jake's website at Climb Out.
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