Home » Welsh Athletics and Mind Cymru unveil two-year partnership to improve mental health through running
Health National News

Welsh Athletics and Mind Cymru unveil two-year partnership to improve mental health through running

·       Leading sports and mental health organisations unite to improve training and drive ‘move for mental health’ message

·       To support launch, runners share stories of overcoming anxiety, PTSD and loneliness through exercise

·       Research shows being physically active can boost self-esteem and reduce the risk of depression by up to 30%*

A new partnership between Welsh Athletics and Mind Cymru is launching at the Senedd today (6 February), aimed at improving mental health through sport.

The new programme will see Mind will train mental health champions in each of Wales’ 100 athletic clubs and 60 social running groups.

Each champion will be equipped to:

·   confidently start conversations to support or improve the wellbeing of those experiencing mental health problems

·   challenge stigma and signpost to mental health support services 

·   help spread the benefits of movement for mental health within communities

·   support people to start, continue or return to running

The partnership will launch this morning at the Senedd, at a ‘run and breakfast’ event sponsored by John Griffiths MS and James Evans MS , that will see runners from across Wales participate in a one-mile run, walk or push alongside Senedd members.

This is the first partnership of its kind in Wales – improving mental health within running communities and using the sport to promote the wider benefits of physical activity. 

It will also increase awareness of the help Mind offers through its services, including its Infoline and network of local Minds in Wales, and boost much-needed support to keep these services running.

Research shows that being physically active gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times. It can also boost self-esteem and reduce the risk of depression by up to 30%*.

James Williams, CEO, Welsh Athletics, said: “We are incredibly aware of the impact and scale of our sport, with close to 500,000 people running on a regular basis across Wales. This opportunity to use the power of running to support improvements in mental wellbeing is huge, and this partnership will enable us to build a sustainable network of support that will have a lasting impact across all parts of Wales.

“Most of us know that physical activity is transformational for our bodies and minds, but having a mental health problem can make it really difficult for some people to get started. Having a negative body image, a lack of self-esteem – not knowing how to get started or having no one to go with – can all be reasons preventing people from moving for their mental health. 

“This important partnership will aim to combat some of these issues. Our specialist champions can not only support existing runners and clubs, but also widen their reach in communities by embedding and promoting the messages about the benefits of running for mental health. The partnership will also improve the approach to mental health across Welsh Athletics and its programmes by embedding mental health into existing programmes and communities.”

Laura Mason, aged 38, from Swansea, found running helped her mental health following a tragic life event. She explained: “I’d run on and off over the years, but never for very long or very far. But then, in 2019, I lost a baby at over 18 weeks pregnant. I was suddenly plunged into a darkness I’d never known before, experiencing crippling anxiety and PTSD. I was living in a state of high alert, constantly wondering what else was around the corner.

“I felt like my body had failed me. Somehow, when my body had physically healed, I put on my trainers and started running. Strengthening my body felt like a positive move, but what I didn’t expect was how it was also beginning to strengthen my mind. I signed up to a half marathon to motivate me to run on the days when I really didn’t feel like it.

“Focusing on where I’d put each step and listening to my breathing seemed to quieten my incredibly noisy mind. I started to notice the nature around me in a way I hadn’t before – a form of mindfulness. There were some runs where I’d listen to podcasts, others where I’d run over the events and sadness I felt. To the steady rhythm of running, I was slowly starting to process what had happened. 

“Running allowed me to see things with more clarity and consider ways to help myself. I soon realised that whatever type of run I was having, I’d never regret going and always felt a bit more positive by the end.

“As the darkness has slowly started to lift, I am very aware of how easily I can fall back into it, so running’s a habit I’ve continued. When I start to feel my mental health begin to falter, I know a run is a stepping stone to putting me back on the right track.

“In April, I am running in The London Landmarks Half Marathon for a baby loss charity. In sharing my story, I hope I can encourage other people experiencing sad times to see if exercise can help them, like it did me.”

Sue O’Leary, Executive Director of Mind Cymru, said: “We know that being regularly active is not just good for our bodies but can also improve our mental wellbeing, which is why we’re really pleased to work with Welsh Athletics on this initiative. A number of our local Minds have developed physical activity programmes that are supporting people with the mental health through becoming more active. We believe this partnership will add an extra dimension to the support we can provide locally and contribute to greater awareness around mental health in Wales.

“Running is one of the most accessible and low-cost ways to be active. We hope that this partnership will not just improve mental health within sport, but also encourage more people to take part by offering a supportive, welcoming and open space.

“Mind’s own research shows that our physical and mental health are intertwined, and there’s good evidence that getting more physically active can have real benefits for mental wellbeing. This includes better sleep, happier moods, effectively managing stress, anxiety and intrusive thoughts. Hopefully this partnership can be a platform for promoting each of these benefits, and encouraging more people to move for their mental health.”

Simon Clarke will speak at the launch of the partnership. He founded Speakeasy club after being diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety in 2020.

He explained: “I’ve always worked in sport, and it’s sad to say that too often in sporting environments, difficult conversations just aren’t the norm.

“That’s why I wanted to set up Speakeasy, to use my own experience of hitting rock bottom to do something different. My view was yes, let’s talk about mainstream issues and hook people in that way – but then let’s also delve into the deeper topics. If it’s sporting figures we’re talking to, then let’s be curious about issues like loss of identity, about the mental health impacts of injury – let’s really get to know people. 

I want to make being curious cool; I want people to be able to identify their ‘clubhouse’ – whatever that might be, and to be able to see it as a space where they can meet like-minded people and be the most authentic versions of themselves.

“This partnership will really achieve that – and strengthen an already-strong community. For Welsh Athletics to be able to partner with such a prominent force as Mind, utilising its expertise and profile to champion the exercise piece, is huge.

“The physical benefits of running are well publicised and accepted – but this partnership can really trigger conversations and connection, which can be absolutely huge for someone at their point of need.”