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Climbing mountains to raise funds for mental health

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This team of seven youths spent two weeks scaling mountains to raise funds for mental health wellness initiatives.

They almost risked their lives while taking a dump on the summit of a 3,000m high mountain. They also suffered from food poisoning after eating street food in Java.

These are just some of the unforgettable challenges seven youths experienced during their two-week hiking expedition in Java, Indonesia, from May 27 to Jun 8.

Organised by Mental Muscle, the expedition is a yearly affair managed by medical students from the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The youth-led group started in 2015 with the aim to remove the social stigma against mental illnesses and to garner support for individuals with such issues.

Split into two divisions, the expedition team takes part in physical challenges while the outreach team maximises their efforts to reach out to local organisations, including their beneficiary, Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH).

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This year's Mental Muscle team consists of: (top row, from left to right) Ng Chong Zheng (22), Ramesh Radhakrishnan (24), Jackson Huang (22), Gurveer Kaven Singh (23) (bottom row, from left to right)Foo Piao Lin (22), Mark Khoo (22), Grace Fong (22). 
PHOTO CREDIT: MENTAL MUSCLE

Mental health is also a cause that is close to one of the team members in the physical challenge. Foo Piao Lin, 22, battled with depression in her second year of medicine.

"When you are sick, people tell you to get some rest and take care of yourself. But when you have a mental issue, people turn away from you. Suddenly you're all on your own and you have to help yourself.

"I don't think we're equipped to do that. We need to seek help," said the fourth year undergraduate, who is still on a journey of recovery.

While Mental Muscle usually embarks on running expeditions to as far as Kathmandu and the Namib Desert, the 2017 team decided to tackle a "vertical challenge" as they wanted to do something different.

Over two weeks, the team of seven scaled 10 of the highest mountains in Indonesia, including Mt Merbabu and Mt Slamet.

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The Mental Muscle team enjoying a quiet moment after their successful last summit.
PHOTO CREDIT: MENTAL MUSCLE

For them, the toughest mountain was Mt Semeru.

"With every two steps you take, you go back one step. It was very cold and dark, and the fear of dying felt very real," shared Piao Lin.

After about a year of campaigning for their expedition this year, the team of seven raised $9,100 for SAMH.

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Team members Foo Piao Lin (left) and Gurveer Kaven Singh (right) are thankful to be part of the expedition.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/NATHALIE D'SOUZA

Piao Lin was determined to pull through the expedition, even if it meant having to confront her fear of heights.

"The thought of pulling out was in my mind the whole trip, because I was feeling homesick, and the end seemed far," she shared.

What kept her going was the strong team spirit and the knowledge that they were all working towards a common goal. "Whenever it got hard, I'd psych myself into thinking 'Hey, this is fun'. I came out of the experience a lot stronger."

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Kaven (left) leading the team as they traversed a narrow edge on a cliff.
PHOTO CREDIT: MENTAL MUSCLE

As the trip was self-funded by the members, they tried to reduce their expenditure by sharing snacks and borrowing hiking gear from their friends.

"I think my entire kit was rented out from friends. I didn't own anything I wore," said Gurveer Kaven Singh, 23, with a laugh.

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Mental Muscle returned to Singapore on Jun 9 after successfully completing their expedition.
PHOTO CREDIT: MENTAL MUSCLE

It has been only a month since the team completed their expedition, but they are already gearing up for the next project in 2019. 

For starters, they are looking forward to mentoring a new batch of students when they join the faculty in early August. 

"We like the idea of change, and we want to continue the idea of juniors coming in and having their say [in deciding the next challenge], with us to advise them," said Piao Lin.

Head here to contribute to Mental Muscle's cause.