A brave Manchester girl is set to travel 250km from Norway to Sweden with a pack of six husky dogs to raise money for mental health issues in memory of her brother.
Vaila Whittaker, 23, is attempting the six day charity challenge to raise £4,000 for Manchester Mind, which helps thousands of people with mental problems every year.
She was inspired to do the challenge following her own experiences with depression after the death of her brother Matthew Rustigini, who himself suffered from mental health issues.
“I sort of repressed my grief and then I got really bad depression,” Vaila, who studies Italian and Linguistics at the University of Manchester, told MM.
— Vaila (@huskychallenge) March 15, 2016
“Last year around February time I wouldn’t even go out the house, I couldn’t do anything.
“I was advised to take some time out of uni and get myself better, so I didn’t have anything to focus on.
“Then I woke up one morning and I just thought to look on the internet for things to do like voluntary work to just get me out the house for a bit.
“I saw this being advertised and thought ‘I want to do that’.
“I hope to help a lot of people with mental health issues because the money will go to getting support, and making people feel important again in the community.”
Setting off from Manchester to Norway on March 25, Vaila will travel overland and camp in -25 temperatures, before reaching her final destination in Sweden one week later.
And the Mancunian lass admitted that she is finding the prospect a little daunting.
“I’m absolutely petrified!” she said.
“I’m excited by it, it’s definitely going to be something to talk about, but at the same time I’m absolutely terrified. I’m thinking ‘oh my god, what have I signed up for’.
“I have had to build up stamina, cardiovascular and upper body strength, and I’m not a proper sporty person or anything at all.
“I know I’m going to do it, you just have a little few doubts, but I’m sure I’ll be able to do it.
“I hope I’ll be able to do it anyway!”
— Vaila (@huskychallenge) February 5, 2016
Her brother Matthew Rustigini suffered from mental health issues which went undetected before he died in May 2013, aged just 25.
Vaila’s quest stems from this, and she believes there is a stigma attached to these issues, especially for males.
“In young men I think people are ashamed about it because you can’t see it, so people think it’s not real,” she said.
“It’s not like you’ve got a broken leg and someone can see it, it is invisible, so it’s hard to explain.
“In society men are meant to take on all this stuff and not have emotions, I think it’s just hard for people to talk about our feelings.
“Especially being the English people we are, we don’t talk about this stuff and I think that adds to the stigma attached to it.
“We have this stiff upper lip to toughen up and just get on with it but people have feelings, we are all human, I think that’s why there’s a big stigma.
“My brother really opened my eyes to it. I was aware of it, I knew about it, but I didn’t really know how it felt.
“I could empathize with people, but not really know what it is.”
Vaila is fundraising for Manchester Mind, who will use the money to pay for quality support, training volunteers and community projects aimed at making people feel important again.
She has already reached her incredible £4,000 fundraising target on Just Giving, but now hopes to push on and raise more to help those in the Manchester area.
She said: “They help people in the local community and people need help here, I know a lot of people who suffer with mental health issues.
“A lot of people out there have mental health issues who have never spoke about it, never come forward or didn’t even know there was help.
“I just chose to help Manchester Mind because that deals with a lot of different mental health issues.
“It helps young people but it also deals with older people, it offers such a wide range of help and care.”
To find out more and donate to Vaila’s cause, click here.