Sky’s the limit for postgraduate tackling mountain hike to boost mental health support for young people

“It will not only help an incredible charity to potentially save lives but will also show people with low self-esteem or self-doubt that they’re capable of much more than they give themselves credit for”

A postgraduate student from St John’s plans to trek up Africa’s tallest mountain to raise £10,500 for a suicide prevention charity to inspire young people to take care of their mental health and wellbeing.

Gav Topley is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in aid of PAPYRUS, the national charity for the Prevention of Young Suicide, with Charlie Kerry-Pickering, his best friend from home in Nottinghamshire. Both men lost friends to suicide at a young age and the brother of a close mutual friend also recently took his own life.

“Charlie has just gone to university for the first time as a mature student and said he wanted us to do something together to challenge himself and in doing so raise a good amount of money for a cause that had the potential to help people in a meaningful way. Together we settled on PAPYRUS and this challenge,” said Gav.

“The £10,500 fundraising target is pretty daunting but it will not only help an incredible charity to potentially save lives but will also show people with low self-esteem or self-doubt that they’re capable of much more than they give themselves credit for.”

Gav Topley
Photo credit: Nordin Ćatić.

Gav hails from a former mining community and had a few mountains to climb himself en-route to Cambridge. He started his working life as a trainee falconer then at 17 joined the Army, where he trained as a Veterinary Technician. After leaving the regular Army, he spent several years working in a secure unit for young offenders, and in social care, youth justice and education, before taking his undergraduate degree at Bournemouth University. He worked with care leavers while doing his Master’s in Leeds and is now in the second year of his PhD at St John’s, focusing on the impact on young people of the British Army’s policy of recruiting and training 16-year-olds. Gav is now an Army Reserve soldier providing support for the parachute regiment as a combat medic.

Suicide is one of the biggest killers of people under the age of 35 in the UK. According to UK charity the Samaritans, there were 5,691 suicides in England and Wales in 2019 – 321 more than the year before. Men aged 45-49 have the highest rate of suicides and there is a rising number in the under-25 age group.

Gav and Charlie’s chosen charity PAPYRUS provides confidential support and advice to young people struggling with thoughts of ending their own life, and anyone worried about a young person contemplating suicide.

At the time of writing the pair had already raised £1,395 through their JustGiving page and profits from merchandise created for a mental health support group for men are also being ploughed into the appeal. Gav set up the ‘Lads Advice’ group on Facebook in July with Charlie and another friend, serving soldier Steve Hughes, and it already has more than 2,400 members.

Gav Topley and friend Charlie
Gav (left) and friend Charlie will be trekking up Mount Kilimanjaro for charity. Photo credit: Gav Topley.

Gav said: “The Facebook group has really taken off. There are members from all over the place and all walks of life, from young Army lads and construction workers to doctors and people working in IT, and it is spreading through word of mouth.

“Men can struggle particularly with their mental health – they’re meant to be strong and resilient, to keep their worries to themselves and not reveal their vulnerable side. But this is a place where they can go for friendly banter and a chat, where they needn’t be afraid to speak up or ask advice about their problems and anxieties in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. Not everybody may want to post, but just scrolling through other people's comments can be a support mechanism and beneficial for their mental health.”

The group’s merchandise includes items such as hoodies and mugs and bears the Latin motto, ‘fortior tu quam credas; amaris enim’, which means, ‘You are stronger than you think: You are loved’, and the encouraging words, ‘Got your six’ – meaning, ‘We got your back’.

Firm friendships are already being made and some of the group are contemplating a sky dive to boost Gav and Charlie’s fundraising appeal. Gav is also running a Christmas jumper design competition in the Lads Advice group to aid the cause.

The pals are planning to hike up Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, which is 5,895 metres above sea level, when they hit their £10,500 target, Covid-19 restrictions permitting.

Gav had been due to run the 2020 London Marathon in April in aid of the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity; although the full event did not take place due to the pandemic, he has been using an app to record his runs and has raised more than £2,000. He now has a place confirmed for the marathon in October 2021.

Every £5 raised for PAPYRUS can help pay for a life-saving contact on its helpline, HOPELINE UK: 0800 068 4141.

Donate to Gav and Charlie’s appeal

* St John's College Health and Wellbeing Centre provides a listening ear, support and advice on a wide variety of physical, mental health and welfare problems and will signpost to local services and advocate when required. Find out more

Published: 10/10/2020

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