ARGENTINA – Conquering depression is a lot like summiting a mountain says Canmore climber Jean-Francois Dupras.
Climbing and mental health complement each other, he explained, because both involve perseverance, dedication and support from loved ones to overcome challenges.
“When you climb a mountain, it really brings you back to those times when you’re depressed,” Dupras said. “It gets really challenging the further on you go and you really have to break it down to step-by-step – like any challenges you go into in life.”
Honouring his love of climbing and support of mental health, Dupras launched "My Life My Adventure" centred on climbing the Seven Summits – the highest mountains on each of the continents. Around two dozen Canadians have completed this feat to date.
“It’s just living my life to the fullest – that’s my main message to people, ‘whatever you are going through, whether it’s a mental illness, depression, any life changes, just remember everything is temporary and you can always reach out for your dream.’ ”
Dupras said he was motivated to start a conversation about mental health after experiencing depression and addiction as a teenager and a severe bought of depression four years ago after a work-place accident.
“I almost committed suicide at the age of 20,” Dupras said. “My life was just ups and downs for the next 20 years.”
Dupras said he feels it is important to talk about mental health in regards to sports because of the immense pressures many professional athletes can face.
The new generation of athletes is more open and connected to their emotions, Dupras said, but there is a need to raise awareness.
“You learn to listen to [your emotions], or life will teach you to."
Dupras will be climbing his fourth mountain of the Seven Summits this month with his ascent of Mount Aconcagua in Argentina. He has previously climbed Denali in Alaska, elevation 6,194 metres, Kilimajaro in Tanzania, 5,895 metres, and Mount Elbrus in Russia, elevation 5,642 metres.
The mountaineer departed on Monday (Jan. 6) to climb the South American peak, boasting an elevation of 22,838 feet, the highest summit in the world outside of the Himalayas.
Argentina marks a change in his climbing, Dupras said, because he is going on his own with no partners.
“There are many, many people on the mountain,” he said. “I know I’m going to meet people and probably end up climbing with somebody.”
Dupras began climbing 15 years ago and his love of the sport has only grown.
“Climbing is my passion – when I climb it makes me feel alive,” Dupras said. “I was in Russia last summer [climbing Mount Elbrus] and I just get shivers thinking about it.”
He was on day three of the climb and the mountain was consumed by wild winds and storms. But he was still mesmerized by the beauty of the summit.
“My face was freezing and I started to cry,” Dupras said. “I was so alive. When I do this I push myself so far both physically and mentally that I really feel like I’m living my life and following my passion – I feel for the first time in my life I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Dupras said he is currently looking for sponsorship for My Life My Adventure. He recently received $5,000 covering the expenses of climbing Aconcagua. For Mount Everest in Nepal, Mount Vinson in Antarctica and Puncak Jaya in Indonesia he is looking to raise $100,000 to support his completion of the Seven Summits.
Dupras said he wants to share this love with the youth, and the next step for My Life My Adventure is to find a way to bring children outside so they can explore the world without their cellphones via camping, hiking or climbing.
“I would like to create something where I can bring those kids together,” Dupras said.
Dupras will be hosting the fundraiser Overcoming Mental Illness One Summit at a Time for CMHA Calgary on Feb. 1 at the Mt. Norquay Ski Resort.
“It’s really about fun and awareness,” Dupras said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
He has raised almost $18,000 so far for the Canadian Mental Health Association, Dupras said, adding that the goal of the fundraiser is to eventually raise $43,319 – $1 for each metre of the total elevation of the Seven Summits.
The event includes a silent auction, discounted skiing and tubing, a performance by The Brew and a presentation by Dupras.
“We all have a mountain to climb, we all have challenges to overcome – it’s up to us to keep moving or sometimes come back down and take a break, re-evaluate, get stronger, add more tools in your tool belt and go from there.”