It's a rare sight, a group of swimmers crossing the "Tickle" using their arms and legs rather than the ferry to get from Portugal Cove - St. Philip's to Bell Island. 

The 5th annual Tickle Swim for Mental Health gave 19 swimmers the opportunity to tackle the five kilometre  trek across the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday morning. 

"People are looking for that kind of great adventure challenge," founder and organizer Sheilagh O'Leary said.

"We have a lot of strong swimmers out there who really want to take on this personal challenge, and many of them know the importance of mental health issues."

Sheilagh O'Leary

Founder and chair of the Tickle Swim for Mental Health, Sheilagh O'Leary, is excited to see the event becoming a challenging fundraiser. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Among those swimmers was 19-year-old lifeguard and Memorial University psychology student Kyle Saunders. At 14-years-old he was diagnosed as bipolar, and his story was recently documented in a video for the Janeway Telethon

"I feel so good to be able to contribute," he said Sunday. 

"To give back to everyone who has been helping me throughout the years."

19 swimmers challenged their bodies and minds for mental health awareness2:59

Saunders admits it's not always easy, but it was important for him to raise money and create awareness of how important physical health is to mental health.

"I really enjoy talking about mental health," Saunders said.

"Talking to my friends and everybody that I can to get the word out about how easy it is to talk about it and how much better it is to talk and have that line of communication."

Kyle Saunders

Kyle Saunders, getting a post-swim hug from his mom, took to the water to advocate for mental health. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

O'Leary is full of praise for Saunders and all the other swimmers who took part in the annual event.

She said the swim has raised just under $20,000 so far, but the Canadian Mental Health Association on Newfoundland and Labrador will continue to collect cash from the event for another week.