In 2004, I was formally diagnosed with a form of depression (now recognised as dysthymia) from which I had suffered since my early teens … in 2011, I first opened up about my condition and how it affects me … then, in 2014, I began a series of over 100 challenges to raise mental health awareness; to show that it is fine to talk about mental health, and to ask for help if you are struggling.
Those messages remain every bit as relevant and important in 2019, and after five years of pushing myself, emotionally and physically (from performing stand-up comedy to rowing a marathon and plenty in between), I will continue sharing my experiences, trying to raise awareness and challenging stigma … but now I will have the support of Grangetown Netball Club.
Mental health does not discriminate. It can affect anyone, of any age, at any time … and no one is immune. You might feel embarrassed or ashamed; you might feel that no one feels the way you do, that no one will understand, or you might think that no one will listen; but whatever the situation, however hard it might be to find the strength say those first words, there’s no need to feel embarrassed, you are absolutely not alone; and you need to know that people will listen, and people will help…
Back in 2014, I asked Grangetown Netball Club if they would help me complete the challenge of “playing goal shooter in a netball team”. They did help. I played. I was rubbish … but everyone was so welcoming and supportive that I stayed in touch, and now write match reports and articles on behalf of the Premier League squad, who have developed into one of the best club sides in the whole country.
You might think there is no link between me missing shot after shot on a netball court and struggling with a mental health condition, but when I approached Grangetown and when I first sat down in front of my GP, it was to “ask for help”.
The connection might seem simplistic … but for me it’s incredibly powerful.
Netball is a fast, exciting team sport, with those at the top of the game being some of the finest athletes on the planet. Grangetown Netball Club’s Prem 1 squad is flying the flag for elite women’s sport in north east England, and it is wonderful that they are willing to get involved and support raising mental health awareness.
The plan is to see if various individuals or clubs would be willing to arrange a handful of “challenges” involving me and some of the Prem squad; it could be netball-related, it could be any other sport (for example a penalty shoot-out against a professional goalkeeper…); it might even be in a recording studio!
Whatever the challenge happens to be, the aim as always will be to show just what can be achieved by asking for help; then use blogs, photos and videos to highlight and reinforce the all-important messages. If you are struggling, you don’t have to suffer in silence; it’s fine to talk about mental health (whether to a friend, relative, teacher, colleague, GP…), and asking for help is not only a sign of amazing courage, it is also the first step on a road that can lead to really positive outcomes…