Mental Health Awareness Week: Brian’s story - a stroke of luck

Twice a year England Athletics ask people to get out for a jog or run with friends, family or colleagues and have a chat to support Time to Talk Day and World Mental Health Day. #RunAndTalk events are taking place from Saturday 6th to Friday 12th October to support World Mental Health day on Wednesday 10th October. Why not read how Brian used running to help him with his mental health problems?

I first had mental health problems after having a TIA (mini-stroke) in May 2009. The sudden and hard-hitting ‘flash of mortality’, the simultaneous loss of a certain bank of memory, loss of general knowledge, a lack of ability to think on the spot and patchy concentration were all quite difficult to come to terms with.

I had to improve my physical health for my own survival and discovered the treadmill in a local gym, which was the start of my journey into running and a new lifestyle. My mental health was still suffering though and after a few minor breakdowns in the summer of 2010 I started taking medication in the form of anti-depressants a few months later.

It was through running that I found my way forward in what was my very own mid-life crisis. I discovered that running helped me with focus; I took pride in what I was doing and actually discovered ‘self-esteem’ for the first time in my adult life. Although concentration and memory were still difficult, and depression still continued outside my running exploits.

Enthused by my new-found life-style, I became keen to promote running in general, and looked for every opportunity to encourage friends, family and colleagues to get up and try running; passing on whatever knowledge I had mustered in the previous 18 months.

In May 2013, along with my good friend Dawn Annett, we decided to take on the task of introducing running into our local community and trained as Run Leaders and started our own ‘So Let’s Go Running’ RunTogether group and SLGR became an England Athletics Affiliated club. Our journey had started, and others were going to be joining us.

The aim was to encourage non-runners to become active with plenty of support and encouragement, while learning and achieving their own running goals, no matter how small. We were to be there every step of the way. The group quickly grew, and we were humbled and overwhelmed at our increasing attendance each week. I had found a channel to promote and engage community running through our own ideals and ethos; running without barriers - with mental health problems being a paramount hurdle to overcome.

Creating a running club was absolutely massive, and it filled me with a lot of pride to have our own runners and own kit out on the local race circuit, but it also brought several anxieties with my own mental health problems nibbling away at me. Despite this I found that although it is sometimes difficult to raise yourself from depression, I realised for me it was even more depressing to let someone down, brood over it and spiral down even further.

I’ve since gone on to volunteer as a Mental Health Champion and a Run Leader Mentor as well. These roles have given me more confidence and have been a great opportunity to help others to get into running or to set up their own running groups.

My experiences as a runner and as a volunteer, along with my desire and ability to promote what I believe in and to assist people with similar mental health issues as myself, has a great bearing on my own mental well-being. There will be bouts of depression and anxiety outside these times in my social, working and family life, but I can draw down from the experience that I have harvested from my running years and apply skills to help counteract them.

For me there is no greater challenge than to help turn someone’s life around through using running and the impact on my own mental health issues has been greater than I could ever imagine. Having confidence in areas where I have built strengths, helps to rise from depression and come down from anxieties.

The ‘leading’, ‘mentoring’ and ‘championing’ are all massive factors in what makes my life complete.

Between 6th-12th October we're encouraging everyone to improve their mental wellbeing by starting, returning, or continuing to run as part of our #RunAndTalk campaign.