A 32-YEAR-OLD who has battled depression for most of her adult life has set up an exercise challenge to raise money for a charity which supported her.

Kidlington resident Verity Westgate has suffered recurrent depression for 15 years, which has included thoughts of suicide. She found regular endurance exercise has helped her to cope with the condition.

Having done the Great North Swim, a half-ironman, two marathons and many other challenges, she has now launched the February Five to raise money and awareness for Mind.

The event is a virtual activity in which participants set their own challenge based around the number five. This means that beginners and hardened athletes can set themselves targets suited to their ability.

Suggestions could be a 500m swim, running 5km per day for five days, cycling a total of 555 miles during the month, working out with five different friends or anything to suit time and energy.

The February Five is just £10 to enter and participants will receive a medal thanks to sponsorship from Oxfordshire-based Lee Merrett Wealth Management.

Mental health awareness is particularly poignant for Verity, a research co-ordinator at the University of Oxford, as one of her closest friends, Emily Riall, took her own life at the age of 22 in 2006.

Verity's own health problems have been severe at times, making it difficult for her to work full-time and maintain social relationships. She has also had suicidal thoughts.

Mind statistics demonstrate that one in four people will suffer some form of depression in their life. Through her own challenges Verity has raised more than £17,000 for Mind so far.

Verity said: “There are three ways that exercise has really helped me during my worst times. The endorphins it releases make me feel better while I am exercising, the routine that I set up to train is very helpful and the sense of achievement can be a real bright spot on the horizon.

“During the time that I have been supporting Mind, I have noticed a definite change in awareness about mental health and an increasing culture where it is acceptable to speak out about it. Mind has played a big part in bringing this about.

“There is still much work to be done however to make sure that people with mental health problems are treated in the same way as those with physical illnesses.”

To sign up register at the website: februaryfive.com - there's also an event Facebook page where participants can cheer each other on

Verity added: "I am really excited about the February Five and the possibilities of encouraging people to get active and boost their mental health at a bleak time of year as well as raising money and awareness for Mind, the mental health charity. Please join in if you can!"

Karen Bolton, Community Fundraising Manager for Mind, said: “We’d like to say a huge thank you to Verity for taking on this fantastic challenge and choosing to fundraise for Mind.

“Taking on her February Five is not only an amazing achievement in itself, it's also a brilliant way to highlight the positive impact physical activity can have on mental wellbeing. Every penny raised will fund Mind’s vital work including the Mind Infoline, our advice services and the campaigning Mind does to secure a better deal for the one in four of us who experience a mental health problem every year.”

Mind’s Five Ways to Wellbeing

Five is an important number to the charity Mind as it promotes the Five Steps to Wellbeing

1) Connect: There is strong evidence that indicates that feeling close to, and valued by, other people is a fundamental human need and one that contributes to functioning well in the world.

• Talk to someone instead of sending an email

• Speak to someone new

• Give a colleague a lift to work or share the journey home with them.

2) Be active: Regular physical activity is associated with lower rates of depression and anxiety across all age groups. Here are a few ideas from Mind:

• Take the stairs not the lift

• Walk into work - perhaps with a colleague – so you can ‘connect’ as well

• Get off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walk the final part of your journey to work

3) Take notice: Studies have shown that being aware of what is taking place in the present directly enhances your well-being and savouring ‘the moment’ can help to reaffirm your life priorities.

• Take notice of how your colleagues are feeling or acting

• Take a different route on your journey to or from work

• Visit a new place for lunch.

4) Learn: Evidence suggests that the opportunity to engage in work or educational activities particularly helps to lift older people out of depression.

• Sign up for a class

• Do a crossword or Sudoku

• Research something you’ve always wondered about

5) Give: Individuals who report a greater interest in helping others are more likely to rate themselves as happy. Research into actions for promoting happiness has shown that committing an act of kindness once a week over a six-week period is associated with an increase in wellbeing.