An introduction to the Mental Health Champions and the England Athletics #RunAndTalk Program.
Last year Sid approached me and others in the club to ask us if we would like to volunteer to be Mental Health Champions. This is part of England Athletics #RunandTalk programme, establishing a network of volunteers across affiliated clubs to promote wellbeing through running, improve the mental health of members and support people new to running who are experiencing mental health difficulties.
As someone who has personal experience with mental health problems, and has managed stress and eating disorders through running, I was passionate about volunteering to help anyone with mental health problems at Serpentine.
As Mental Health Champions, we are all very open about our own experiences and know running can make us stronger, physically and mentally. As advocates of the benefits of mental health and running we’re willing to discuss these topics in the media, with fellow Serpie Beth Lackenby and I featuring in a BBC article on using running to beat mental health problems, documented by yet Martin Eberlen (another Serpie!)
Belonging to such a big running club in London might make people think that we’re not looking out for each other, but we’re always available to help and never want anyone to suffer in silence or feel alone. Running is one of the most natural thing our bodies can do, and as social creatures we’re always willing to go for a run and chat with anyone who needs us – or even just have a cup of tea if the weather is awful.
Why does the club have Mental Health Champions?
Together, the Serpentine Mental Health Champions have lived experiences of mental health problems, either personally or through a close relative or friend. We adopt a positive, patient and supportive approach towards people in the club with mental health problems.
We are not here to judge when being approached for help, and will always behave in a confidential and non-discriminatory manner. We provide a point of contact for the running club, encouraging everyone to have an open dialogue about mental health. While we are not acting as practitioners providing mental health support, we can give guidance on how to access support.
England Athletics’ aim is to have a Mental Health Champion in every affiliated club so that people experiencing mental health problems can access the benefits of running in a supported way. You could say Serpentine is one of the pioneer clubs.
What are we here to do?
As we’re volunteers our role fits in with our normal club activities. We want to start conversations about mental health with club members and share good stories to get people talking. We will help anyone who contacts the ambassadors, host Run&Talk sessions during club runs and promote mental health stories on social media.
Run&Talk sessions are run by the Mental Health Champions and included within club runs. If a Mental Health Champion is at either a Wednesday or Saturday club run they can choose to announce that they will be hosting a Run&Talk session. This means that anyone who is running can feel free to run alongside the Champion and have a chat. We will run at a slower pace than usual and will be happy to listen, share and provide guidance.
Over the past year we’ve been contacted by club members going through different personal issues including eating disorders, stress, anxiety and even more specific issues such as redundancy. Everything is between you and the Mental Health Champion and no matter who you talk to we all share the same belief that running and talking can help. We believe that a problem shared is a problem halved so no one should ever feel like they are alone and can’t speak to one of us.
How can I get in touch with the Mental Health Champions?
Serpentine’s Mental Health Champions are:
- Coralie Frost
- Jamie Giles
- Sid Wills
We have an email address firstname.lastname@example.org which members are free to use to contact us. You can also speak to any of us in confidence during Run&Talk runs or if we’re at any club events.
We’re here to get more people running and experiencing the physical, social and mental wellbeing benefits that come with it, but we’re equally here to provide an ear to listen if any runner needs to talk.
Coralie Frost started running in 2014 and has since fallen in love with marathons and triathlon. She’s one of Serpentine’s Mental Health Champions, supporting any club members who are experiencing mental health problems.