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Sophia Badger walked from London to Rome in memory of two friends who sadly took their own lives, and in doing so raised thousands of pounds and vital awareness around mental health.

In 2018, in the space of seven weeks, two friends from different parts of my life – one from university and one I met travelling – took their own lives.

It was such a difficult thing to process but I felt this instant desire to talk about it and to do something. I wondered if I could have talked to them more and I decided that it was important to start speaking about mental health in a more every day sense.  I needed to do something to facilitate that conversation and that’s where the idea of walking from London to Rome was born.

Browsing in a bookshop, the title Via Francigena leapt out at me. Being half English, half Italian, I was intrigued. I realised it was a pilgrimage that passes close to where my mother was born. I’d recently lost my beloved grandmother and the walk felt like a way of reconnecting with a part of my heritage I felt I’d lost through losing her.

I contacted the parents of my friends and they were so supportive and glad something good could come from a tragic situation. Mind was taken aback that I was going to walk 1,300 miles but once they knew I was physically and mentally up to it, they got behind me along with my friends and family. 

I decided to add on 134km and start from home and on July 1st, 2019 I shut the door to my flat in North London and started walking to Rome! The route took me through France, across the Swiss Alps and into Italy.

The walk taught me so many things, among them to explore places off the beaten track. But the most amazing thing was the hospitality I received – from B&B owners, monks and nuns, and people who welcomed me into their homes. I even stayed in a French manor house, with an eccentric lady who was still hunting wild boar in her 80’s! I lways felt like someone was looking out for me and it’s something I want to try and give back in my life.

When people foud out why I was doing the walk they were incredibly supportive and I was amazed by how many people shared their own mental health stories with me. I had a blof and was on Instagram a lot, talking about the walk and mental health.

Some days were amazing, like the day I crossed the Swiss Alps into Italy underneath a bluebird sky, but others were hard. I tried to be honest and not sugar coat the struggles I had and that resonated with people.

Walking into Rome I felt so many emotions- disbelief that I’d got there, accomplishment, but also sadness. I was enjoying the places, the people, and the things I’d learned about myself so it was bittersweet. Arriving at St Peter’s Square, Knowing where I’d come from, was overwhelming. 

I raised over £15,000 and I’m so grateful to everyone who donated and supported me. I never dreamed I could raise so much. It was the icing on the cake.

Talking is the first step
Mind’s mission is to make sure that no one faces a mental health problem alone. As well as providing advice and support to empower people, it campaigns to improve mental health services, raise awareness, and promote understanding.
Mind.org.uk