Two gruelling early-morning runs up the 414 steps at Scammonden Dam isn’t the Sunday morning most people have in mind.
But that’s exactly what model and social media influencer Manuel Benages undertakes every week in an effort to help people through their mental health problems.
The 38-year-old from Halifax has battled his own demons over the years, overcoming addictions to drink and drugs while coming to terms with the difficulties of his own mental well-being.
He leads ‘Get Fit for Mental Health’, an ever-growing group that takes on fitness challenges - including the Scammonden step runs - in an effort to take control of their recovery from mental health issues.
His Instagram page @manwellness has gathered over 16,000 followers, to whom Manuel shares videos about his own struggle as well as the various fitness challenges he has undertaken alongside the likes of DJ Tom Zanetti and boxing champion Darren Tetley.
Manuel said: “Being a male model, you get sucked into this world of social media where everything looks perfect. Everything is filtered, there’s no discussion about what’s really going on.
“When I was at my lowest, you’d never know where I was at if you looked at what I was posting online. We need to stop that - it’s just not healthy.
“Now I try to use my social media to talk about my problems and just be honest. If that helps other people then great.
“Sometimes I get calls and messages in the middle of the night from people that need to talk through their problems. And that’s what I want. I want to be there for people.”
It’s a level of support Manuel couldn’t find at his lowest ebb. He says his battle goes back to a turbulent childhood.
He said: “When I was a kid and was put in care, my dad left when I was four and my mum had her own issues.
“I was bullied really badly at school, I never had friends and got moved around. In care I was beaten and stabbed.
“That was the world I grew up in. It was crazy. I just spiralled.”
As Manuel got older his mental health issues took hold and he began to use drink and drugs himself. After the death of his mother at just 54-years-old, he ran away to Ibiza and hit rock bottom.
He said: “I lost my wife, I wasn’t allowed to see my children for 12 months, I lost friends, I lost family. I couldn’t stop the behaviours I was involved in.”
Manuel has lost no fewer than ten friends to suicide, finding one friend himself. Put on an 18-month waiting list for therapy after having suicidal thoughts, Manuel decided to take matters into his own hands and threw himself into fitness. Before long, the idea for ‘Get Fit for Mental Health’ was born.
"It’s a reoccurring problem and something needs to change," he said, "I want to reach out to as many people as possible so no one feels alone and help them to manage their own mental health problems.
"I work up and down the country setting mental and physical challenges for myself and working with the elite to raise awareness of mental health and to reach as many people as possible to try and break the stigma surrounding mental health.
“That’s what I do. If I’m going to do something, I really throw myself into it and give it everything.
“It’s been great and seeing so many smiling faces responding to what you’re doing is a great feeling. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Manuel was inspired in part by the efforts of former Halifax rugby player Luke Ambler, who started Andy’s Man Club in 2016 following the suicide of his brother-in-law.
“I saw him in the pub one night and went up to him - that’s how we met,” he said, “I wasn’t ready to take control then, I was still drinking too much. But we kept in touch.
“Now he’s been on a few runs with us and he keeps tabs on how we’re doing and we swap stories on how to help people.”
Anyone wishing to get involved with ‘Get Fit for Mental Health’ is welcome to join either of the Scammonden runs, which take place at 6:15am and 8:15am. The group has a Facebook page - 'Get Fit for Mental Health'.