I’m now into my sixth year of trying to raise mental health awareness by undertaking various “challenges”. The definitive list of 100 covering 2014-18 includes numerous tasks relating to sports and (performing) arts that tested me physically and/or emotionally, as well as many meeting and visiting challenges that required a significant amount of planning (and often travelling).
Throughout the whole time, the underlying messages remained the same. It is fine to talk openly about mental health; and never be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling.
As many of you will be aware, training and preparation notwithstanding, the majority of the tasks on the list were designed to require me to ask someone (often someone I didn’t know) for help in order to turn an idea into reality. It took me over a quarter of a century to accept I had a mental health problem, and to find the strength to go and see my GP (someone I hardly knew…) and ask for help.
The comparison might seem simplistic, but I make no apology because, for me, it is such a powerful link. Fifteen years after I booked that appointment and broke down completely in front of my doctor, so much has changed.
I would never say I have “recovered” – in fact I’m not sure I will ever completely recover – but the mild, but chronic form of depression from which I have suffered since my teens is now fully accepted, better understood, better managed, and better controlled.
Yes, to a greater or lesser degree, I still suffer every single day; but the difference is that I recognise the symptoms; I can spot the obvious triggers (but don’t waste time trying to find the less obvious … because they might not even exist); I know my coping strategies; I know there are people I can talk to … however compelling the need to withdraw; and most importantly of all, I am strong enough to retain the objective clarity to realise the feelings always pass.
My “challenges” are not intended to suggest any miracle cure – because there isn’t one. To whatever extent an individual improves or “recovers”, it is a hard fight; it can take a long time; and there will be setbacks along the way. But (with a capital B), the moment you talk to someone – be it a friend, parent, colleague, teacher, doctor etc. – you have taken the biggest and toughest step; and that makes you amazing…
What I am trying to do is show that whatever the condition from which you suffer (or believe you may suffer), and however it manifests itself in your daily life, you are not alone. Your life, your circumstances and specific symptoms may be unique, but so many people will be able to relate to you in terms of how much you struggle.
People will listen.
People will help.
For 2019, my “challenges” will revolve around the sport of netball. I am lucky enough to work with Grangetown Netball Club (fourth best club in the country I’ll have you know) as a volunteer reporter. They are lovely people, and great athletes, playing a fantastic sport; and half of this year’s work will involve arranging events in which members of the squad will participate (and planning is already underway…).
The second part of the challenge is to meet six stars of the game chosen by three people who randomly picked two numbers each, which were then matched against a list of names numbered 1-50 (in no particular order).
I’m very much aware that means asking six people I don’t know to get involved in something they know nothing about. Hopefully the mental theme will make a difference, and maybe the past challenges will prove I’m serious about what I doing; but whatever the outcome(s), I’m definitely going to have to ask for help.
As far as mental health is concerned, netball is essentially no different to any other sport, or any walk of life for that matter: mental health does not discriminate and anyone can be affected…
Today’s world is very different to the one in which I grew up; issues such as body image, eating disorders, obsessive conditions, forms of stress, anxiety and depression (and the numerous potential triggers) et al are now very much in the public domain; but that in itself doesn’t remove the pain of the sufferer, or the stigma that sadly still exists.
Many of the above have some relevance within the realms of netball, but of course, they are not restricted to age, or gender, let alone an individual sport. I have chosen to raise awareness through netball simply because I love watching the sport, and I love Grangetown … but the underlying messages wouldn’t be any different if the sport was cricket or rugby league…
Essentially if just one person reads these blogs, sees the photos of the challenges, and is somehow empowered to talk about how they are feeling; then that justifies everything.
All of which brings me to the photo at the top of the page. The young lady in question is Rachel Dunn. Rachel plays netball for Wasps and England and is one of the finest shooters currently playing the game.
Rachel had drawn one of the six short straws mentioned earlier, but with support from Wasps’ photographer Clive Jones and PR/Media manager Rob Milne (both of whom I had also never met before), it was possible to spend a few thoroughly enjoyable minutes in Rachel’s company on Sunday… and even have a photo to prove it…
So the 2019 netball challenges are officially underway. There will be more blogs and pictures to come over the next few months, but even though the photos will be different, the message will always stay the same.
It is fine to talk openly about mental health; and never be afraid to ask for help if you are struggling.