A MILNTHORPE doctor is one of a crack team of reservist servicemen preparing to scale the world’s tallest mountain to draw attention to the problem of mental illness in the armed forces.
Kirsty Watson will attempt the Everest summit as expedition doctor with the group, which aims to raise the profile of the Combat Stress charity.
It is thought around seven per cent of reservists suffer problems of mental illness after returning from combat zones, compared to around three per cent for regular service personnel.
Dr Watson says this could be because reservists return straight from battle zones back into family life and normal day jobs without experiencing a ‘wind down’ period with comrades that regulars have.
“They hurry back to normality without the support network to make sure they are OK,” she said.
“They feel abandoned and cut off, and it is difficult for them to seek help because of the imagined stigma.”
Dr Watson, who works at Westmorland General Hospital, Kendal, said the mental illness they experienced manifested itself in many different ways including depression and drink and drug abuse.
She said the Everest expedition aimed to spread the message that help was available.
The 41-year-old is a major in the 208 Field Hospital covering Lancaster, Blackpool and Liverpool, which means she regularly goes on exercises and is prepared to mobilise for war.
An expert climber, she has already scaled summits in the Dolomites, Atlas Mountains and Swiss Alps as well as nine conquests of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro.
She has published a paper on the difficulty of sleeping at altitude and is now researching the debilitating Khumba Cough which ruins many mountain trips.
Last year, Dr Watson was recruited to Everest Emergency Rescue.
This time she will be the only woman on the team: “I do not want to be the one who lags behind. I am determined to keep up.”
She is already preparing for the gruelling trip, spending most of her spare time running, trekking, swimming or climbing in the Lake District.
“I am determined to reach the summit, but I am resigned to the fact that I am there as a doctor and so looking after team members will be my first priority.”
The expedition, called British Army Everest 14, sets off on April 1 and is due to take two months.