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Bringing people together to end mental health stigma

It might have been pouring with rain, but that didn’t dampen spirits as we headed to Markeaton Park in Derby for a #runandtalk event in aid of #timetotalk day – in partnership with Jog Derbyshire groups, Derbyshire Mind and Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

“Every year, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem. The experience will be different for each of us, as will the type of support we need,” says Healthwatch Derbyshire.

The NHS long term plan also points to ‘fully integrated community based healthcare’. This was the perfect example of community coming together to develop this, end the stigma of mental health and promote the transformational benefits of physical activity for all different types of people.

Volunteers from all organisations worked tirelessly to provide a positive experience for NHS staff, service users, carers and Jog Derbyshire regulars – from registering arrivals and leading warm ups to leading walks/run/jogs and handing out tea and cake.

With the option of a 1.5 mile walk or 3 mile run or jog we set off around the muddy route – casual chatter and story swapping interspersed with shrieks of laughter as puddles were either jumped in or over.

The power of community

One of the event organisers, Community Psychiatrist Dr Subodh Dave, explains the importance of the event in bringing people together.

“Patients with serious mental illness often suffer the double jeopardy of poor physical health on top of their mental health difficulties. Stress and burnout is being reported by an ever larger proportion of NHS staff. Physical exercise such as running or walking is good not only for physical health but also for one’s mental health.

“Stigma against mental illness however is a powerful and pervasive force and can often stop people with mental illness from getting engaged with the community around them.

“The #RunandTalk initiative on #TimeToTalk day aimed to tackle this stigma by doing what works best – putting people in the same room. People with mental illness and without, runners and non-runners, staff, patients and public. In this case, the room was a large room indeed – Markeaton Park -where people ran/walked together, chatted and built connections.

“For me as a community psychiatrist working in a community mental health team, it has always rankled that we were not as engaged with our local communities as we should be. #RunAndTalk tapped in to the power of the community and left everyone in the room feeling energised, hopeful and motivated to be the change! I am positive that these connections will endure and will lead to more positive partnerships in Derby.”

How activity gave me a sense of purpose

Along the route we met Anne Ishikawa who moved to England from Japan when she was nine. Two years ago, due to circumstance she found herself without a job and had to move back home, leaving her struggling with her self-belief.

She told us about her experience with mental health and how physical activity has given her a sense of value and fun.

“I found myself left with nothing really. I was on the border of anxiety and depression and I knew I needed to try and reinvent myself.

“I started Nordic Walking and also found some volunteer work at a museum. It reignited my sense of purpose and of fun.

“I now co-lead Nordic Walking groups and it gives me a sense of feeling worthy and valued. It’s fantastic being with people who don’t judge you.

“I’ve gone from being paranoid about what everyone thought of me to belly-dancing and today I’ve been jumping in puddles!

“I still feel like I have a stigma I want to break in myself so I really like coming along to this sort of thing. Today has been great because I’ve got to meet people who have the link of going through the same thing.

“Coming along to this would have previously scared me and I almost didn’t come but I’m glad I did”.

Stories of strength

We arrived back at Markeaton Park’s community room to a welcome array of smiling volunteers offering cakes and hot drinks as the room settled down to listen to inspirational talks.

First up was Alice Amaris – who described the experience of living with mental health problems and how running had saved her, with an inspiring reminder we’re all different and we should be proud of that. You can read more about Alice’s story here

Peak Running's Andy Brooks followed on with his journey into running. Having never considered himself sporty and disliking the competitive nature of school sports he realised the importance of just doing it for yourself and not worrying about being fastest. He explained the importance of setting yourself a goal, rather than competing against others and described running as a big metaphor for life.

It was topped off by our wonderful Jog Derbyshire leader Helen who told of the friendship and support earned through Jog Derbyshire groups, not only for the participants joining the groups but for herself during a tough six months.

What next?

We’re really looking forward to getting together with all agencies to explore how community jogging could become a regular feature for staff and patients at Derbyshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust.

For advice and further information about mental health visit Derbyshire Mind and Derbyshire Healthwatch websites.
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