Gardaí taking on Ireland's highest peaks for mental health charity

Gardaí from all over the country are taking on the highest peak in every province to aid mental health awareness

Gardaí from all over the country are swapping their hats for hiking boots this weekend to take on some of Ireland’s highest peaks and promote mental health awareness.

Police from the NYPD, PSNI, Spain and Australia will join their garda colleagues for the three-day Garda Four Peaks Challenge.

The police are tackling the highest peak in every province in Ireland – Carrauntuohill in County Kerry, Mweelrea in Mayo, Slieve Donard in County Down and Wicklow’s Lugnaquilla – all in aid of mental health charity, Aware.

It comes as Cadbury Boost hosts the first ever #BoostYourAwareness Touch Rugby Blitz at Lansdowne Rugby Club, this Friday, with all proceeds going to the charity.

20 teams will compete in the Blitz throughout the day and Cadbury Boost ambassadors – Alan Quinlan, Fiona Coghlan, Jordi Murphy and Luke Fitzgerald - will be on-hand to coach and encourage the teams throughout the day.

When not competing on the pitch, teams will have access to strength & conditioning sessions, yoga classes, pilates classes and mental well-being talks from Aware.

The event will finish up with a barbecue, prize giving ceremony and special live broadcast of Newstalk’s Off The Ball.

Understanding mental health

The gardaí have been training for months in preparation for the Four Peaks – and Garda Brendan O’Neill told Newstalk that understanding mental health is hugely important to anyone working in front-line emergency services.

“No matter what anyone says it is a tough job,” he said. “You don’t know what you are facing day in day out, so it does wear away at people.”

"One day you might see nothing and the next you might be going to a fatal traffic accident, you could be going to a suicide - so it can be very difficult.

“Whether it is in their own lives, their families or with members of the public they are working with, guards are very aware of the importance of mental health - and the importance of opening up and asking for help when you need it.”

National effort

This is the first year the force has officially gotten involved in the challenge and Garda O’Neill said there was no shortage of volunteers when the idea was floated to members around the country.

In total, there are 100 members taking part – from almost every county in Ireland – but there were three times as many volunteers willing to take on the challenge.

“You can see up and down the country every week, there are guards doing good things in their local GAA club or their local charity all of that and there is great work being done,” said Garda O’Neill.

“The idea was to spread this out to guards all around the country and make it national effort – and it has taken off really well.”

He said many of the volunteers had never hiked before getting involved, adding that “they are addicted to it now; you can’t get them off the hills.”

“It is probably proven that getting out in nature and getting up hiking is brilliant for your mental health,” he said.

“It is a really good way of raising money and raising awareness about the charity but also highlighting the natural resource we have in Ireland – the beautiful mountains and surroundings.

“It doesn’t cost you anything, just throw on your boots and head up the mountains for few hours - you can end up feeling great after.”

Aware

Garda O'Neill - a National Bravery Award winner for foiling an armed robbery while off-duty - said Aware was chosen because “we have seen the work they have done in the past and we believe in what they are doing.”

“I think mental health is more openly talked about now,” he said. “People are more comfortable talking about it and hopefully people are more comfortable looking for help.”

“The most important thing is, if you feel like you need help to go for it.

“That might be among your family and friends - but there are also plenty of other supports out there if you would prefer to keep something private.”

The campaign is currently just short of reaching its fundraising target of €50,000 – with plenty of time left to donate.

You can donate to the campaign here.

If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this post, the Aware Support Line is available Monday – Sunday, 10am to 10pm on 1800 80 48 48.

The Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123.