BY TOBY PORTER
An anorexia sufferer is cycling from John O’Groats to Land’s End to raise money for mental health classes in school.
Hope Virgo, from Earlsfield, is pedalling 1,147 miles, six hours a day for two weeks, because she thinks children should be taught about how to handle emotional problems before the Government starts paying for lessons in 2020.
The author, named a mental health ambassador by mental health charity the Shaw Mind Foundation, hopes to raise more than £3,000.
She believes young people shouldn’t have to wait for the help that they need, and that the time has come to act.
She is backing a campaign by the foundation to fund classes before then. She will be supported by the globally famous treatment centre, the Priory, in Putney.
Hope, pictured, said: “The mental health of children and young people has reached crisis point.
The Government has announced plans to implement mental health education into the curriculum, but these changes won’t happen until 2020.
So, what happens to the children and young people who need guidance and support now? Children and young people cannot wait until 2020 to get support.”
Hope struggled with anorexia from the age of 13. She hid her anorexia from everyone around her, when privately she felt trapped and isolated.
Her life was spiralling out of control, and so she was admitted to hospital.
She wrote about it in a book written jointly with her mother Stand Tall Little Girl.
Hope said: “I used to argue with my parents at every meal time.
Some nights, when I didn’t have the energy to fight with them, I would eat dinner quickly then head up to the bathroom and make myself sick.
After ensuring that every bit of food was out of my body, I would go in to my room, work out for a few hours, and then climb into bed in the early hours of the morning.
It was those evenings I felt completely alone and afraid. I didn’t know what had happened, and I felt like nobody understood what I was going through.
“One in every three schoolchildren is living with a mental illness and yet there are still so little resources available.
The Shaw Mind Foundation’s ambition is to fight stigma and end the shame felt by so many sufferers of mental illness, and they plan to do so by pushing for mental health education.
“I found it therapeutic but people who had not known my history would look me up and down, to see evidence of the disorder and be judgemental about it. I just had to deal with that.”
Hope wants the ride to help people struggling with their mental health know they are not alone and to reduce the stigma that often comes with mental health.
Each day she will cycle between 70 and 90 miles, stopping at schools along the way to give talks about her own experience of anorexia and mental health issues and offering insight to parents, teachers and pupils on how they can support each other.
The campaigner wrote her life story, Stand Tall Little Girl, jointly with her mother. She is hoping the ride will help her put her food patterns behind her.
She said: “It has been challenging going on a special diet – one which is less about calories and more about protein.
I have been listening to my body while I train, doing 70 mile rides twice a week. Doing exercise helps me stay well.”
Shaw Mind Foundation chief executive Kate Majid said: “Money should not be a barrier to mental health education.
It shouldn’t be a postcode lottery, but something for everyone.” Priory Healthcare chief executive Dr Sylvia Tang said: “It’s impossible to overstate the importance of good mental health education.
Empowering young people to cope with the emotional demands of modern day life is an essential part of their development.
We’re delighted to support Hope’s efforts to improve mental health awareness and equip young people with the skills to build and sustain good mental health.”
Hope was hospitalised and on the brink of death from anorexia once before, but relapsed in 2016 and was told she was “too thin” for treatment.
She said: “After four months of battling with that voice in my head I decided it was time I reached out for help. I referred myself and got an appointment at an eating disorder unit in London, only to be told I wasn’t thin enough for support.”
She felt suicidal, and one evening sat at a train station for hours. She said: “I just wanted to give up on life altogether. I remember thinking about how much better life would be for everyone if I wasn’t here.
Something stopped me that evening ending my life altogether.”
She collected more than 62,000 signatures on a petition to demand uniform implementation of guidelines across the country.
“There have been cuts left, right and centre,” she said.
“We seem to insist people reach crisis point before we do anything. The crisis will not go away until it is tackled.”