As Mental Health Awareness Week draws to a close, you’re probably now fully aware that mental health problems can be a real challenge for a huge number of people. The press and social media have been full of tragic and worrying cases of people – especially young people – afflicted by all manner of mental health disorder and the chances are you’ve been affected by your own or a loved one’s mental health issues at some point. The thing is, though, awareness is all very well, but what do you do with that awareness? It’s easy to hear the words without really turning your mind to what you can do about it. So I thought it might be helpful to try to bring it meaning – first of all by introducing you to a great campaign, Rowing Together for Healthy Minds, secondly by encouraging you to support a brilliant fundraising endeavour taking place in my own rowing community and finally by offering some advice for what to do if you think someone in your club (or elsewhere in your life) is struggling with their mental health.

1. Rowing Together for Healthy Minds

If you’ve been to a regatta already this season, you may have seen crews wearing RTHM tech tops. Rowing Together for Healthy Minds is a campaign founded by two students in memory of rower René Zamudio, who took his own life in January 2017. Their aim is to get people in the rowing world talking openly about mental health, to educate athletes and coaches about the symptoms of depression and other disorders, and ultimately to make it easier for people suffering from these issues to reach out for help in future. More than 100 clubs have signed up and the fundraising tops shown in the picture (the profits of which go to mental health charity, Mind) are selling fast. They’re producing a poster to be displayed in clubs with a charter committing to making mental health a priority, and they’re working with British Rowing to get them to include a minimum amount of mental health training within every rowing club across the country.

You can follow the campaign on social media here. If you’d like to get your club involved, email them at [email protected]. If your club isn’t affiliated, you can still buy the kit here.

2. 150km Row for Mental Health

In July of this year, four young rowers in Monmouth will be rowing 150km over two days to raise money for Minds Matter and to support the RTHM campaign. They’ve been planning the row for some time, but it has been lent particular significance and poignancy as just a few weeks ago one of the boys’ closest friends, a lovely young man called JJ, took his own life. Like so many in his situation, JJ was universally popular, incredibly talented and came from a loving family – a stark reminder of the fact that mental health problems can strike anybody, at any time. Here’s a short video they made to promote the row.

My own club is figuring out ways to support the boys’ row, but in the meantime the more money we can give them the better. You can donate to their fund here.

3. What to do when someone is struggling

If someone at your club is showing signs of of mental distress – acting out of character, perhaps, or seeming withdrawn or flat or just not themselves – here are some tips, shared by Rowing Together for Mental Health, on starting a conversation:

– Choose somewhere with no interruptions.
– A relaxed activity like walking can make the conversation less intense for them.
– Make sure you have enough time and won’t have to rush off anywhere.
– Respect their privacy and focus on thoughts rather than behaviours.
– Try to reflect on what you’re listening to; using phrases such as ‘It sounds as if…’ help show your understanding and care for their situation.
– Avoid asking ‘why’ questions. ‘What is it about this situation that worries you?’ might sound less aggressive than ‘Why are you worried about this?’.
– Explore what they have found helpful in the past, and what they could do in the future.
After an initial conversation, you can help them take small steps towards overcoming their situation. If they have been withdrawn from the squad, invite them to a low commitment social activity (e.g. going for a coffee near where they live). Do not expect them to recover quickly and appreciate that setbacks are common. If the problem becomes worse and they are not already seeking professional help, encourage them to do so.

I hope this has given you a few ideas about what you can do, individually and as a club, to improve mental health in our sport and beyond. Let’s keep the conversation going beyond the end of the week.

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