How I Became A Mental Health Champion
Peter of Stafford Harriers shares his story of how he became a Mental Health Champion.
“In 2016 when I retired, I began to look to become involved in activities which would be a challenge, provide a source for personal growth and involve forms of exercise in a group setting. A friend suggested that I give Hanley Parkrun a try. The promise of cheese and bacon oatcakes afterwards did the trick, and I was soon hooked on the Saturday morning outing. I quickly got the running bug.
Not long afterwards another friend suggested I might enjoy joining Stafford Harriers where I would get the opportunity to get some coaching and build stamina to do longer runs. I have to admit doubt started to set in, what would a running club offer a 66-year-old, surely, it’s for more athletically minded people I thought. After a while I put these doubts to the back of my mind and decided to give it a go.
Soon I realised I couldn’t be in a more supportive group. I was made to feel very welcome from the start. After a three-week period where I attended different training sessions, I joined Stafford Harriers.
What’s worth mentioning here is that over 30 years previously I had been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and burnout. However, for much of that time I felt unable to talk about my mental health experience, even now it feels at times a risky thing to do.
During the summer of 2018 I started to become aware of the work England Athletics (EA) were doing with mental health. After discussion with a few members of the club I realised that they didn’t have a Mental Health Champion.
I made contact with their Inclusion Manager, the person with responsibility for the Programme. After discussion and a few email exchanges, I thought the role of Mental Health Champion was just possibly right for me.
By pure coincidence I happened to be discussing my thoughts with the Chair of the Staffordshire Athletics Network, John Finney, when marshalling at an event in Stoke. In expressing some concern about knowing where to start, he helped me by introducing me to Stone Master Marathoners’ Mental Health Champion, Michael Beasley. Michael was really helpful in sharing ideas and the plans his club had for the #Runandtalk campaign which gave me reassurance and a good foundation to start from.
So I decided to give it a go and in January, I gave a presentation on the role of Mental Health Champion to the Stafford Harriers Committee, explaining why I felt I would be suitable for the role.
I found doing the presentation quite emotional for me as this was the first time I had spoken openly to a group of people about my mental health experiences in over 30 years. It felt really risky but, there was no need to be; I came away from the meeting feeling fully supported by the committee.
I was appointed as Mental Health Champion by the club and an application to EA was made to participate in the February 2019 #Runandtalk campaign – a date for our run was also agreed by the committee.
EA provided me with an incredibly useful pack on how to proceed and what to do to organise the event. I felt fully equipped to take on my roles and responsibilities for both the up and coming #Runandtalk event and going forward for the rest of the year.
I found this involvement in the club has massively improved my confidence in talking about my own experiences of mental health, understanding more about the effects of self-stigma and how running helps with wellbeing.”
Find out more about Stafford Harriers here.