A North Dartmoor Search and Rescue Team (NDSART) member has organised a marathon challenge to raise awareness of mental health issues and the increasing number of callouts attended by the NDSART to people in extreme distress. 

Jenny Doe has set up the Through the Darkness run, due to take place this July, which challenges participants to complete laps of a 12km course over Dartmoor over a 12 hour period between 6pm and 6am, to make the general public more aware of the ‘darker side’ of mountain rescue.

She said: ‘We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Mental health problems are difficult internal experiences and experiences can range from mild to severe distress. It is those in severe distress that we as search and rescue teams are increasingly looking for, and saving lives.

'Through The Darkness is a challenge for everyone. The aim is to complete as many laps as you can between 6pm on July 1 and 6am on July 2 2023. 

‘Participants will be pushing through the darkness and into the light, reflecting going through the darker times of mental health struggles, but knowing there will be lighter times ahead.’

Often associated with the emergency service helping those lost and injured on the moor, NDSART members are finding themselves increasingly called out to incidents to help people in severe emotional distress. These incidents accounted for half of all callouts in 2021.

Jenny added: ‘Of this number, 30 per cent we didn’t reach in time. Sadly, we are increasingly recovering loved ones, not rescuing them, and this has a huge impact on the mental health of team members too.

‘Being regularly exposed to potentially distressing experiences doubtlessly has an effect on mental health and wellbeing, and MREW members are doing this on a voluntary basis, often having to switch back in to “normal life mode” immediately after a callout, without the space to process a distressing event. 

‘The general public have very little knowledge about this darker side of mountain rescue work, they imagine the “cool” ropes access and swift water rescues etc and MREW (Mountain Rescue England and Wales) is endeavouring to raise awareness through the “so much more than mountains” campaign to highlight this.

‘All money raised will be split equally amongst all MREW teams as all teams nationwide are dealing increasingly with those in mental health crisis. The more money raised, the more your team will get, so please spread the word and share the Just Giving campaign.’

Jenny conceived of Through the Darkness after meeting Jeff Smith, a mountaineer and ultra-runner who set up mental health charity Big Moose, which aims to support those struggling with their mental health through therapy and early intervention in order to prevent suicide. An ultra-runner herself, Jenny said she met Jeff when a planned 250km race in Mexico was cancelled and rescheduled to Bradford-upon-Avon, giving her the opportunity to chat with Jeff about the similarities between the charitable work they do to help people suffering with mental health difficulties.

Following a number of suicides in Okehampton during 2022, Linda Harper, chairman of the Okehampton Community Garden Association, has organised a new mental health group for men, who are more likely to take their own lives than women, according to research carried out by mental health charity Samaritans in 2021.

Anyone thinking about suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK on 0800 6895652. The helpline is open from 6pm to midnight every day and offers confidential help to anyone 18 or over. Anyone concerned about a mental health crisis that needs an urgent response should call emergency services on 999.

For more information about Through the Darkness or to book a place visit: www.throughthedarkness.co.uk.