“Running gave me a way of managing my mental health” - Women's Running UK

“Running gave me a way of managing my mental health”

Author: Women's Running Magazine

Read Time:   |  July 7, 2016

Stephanie Mason EA ambassador

Earlier this year, England Athletics, teamed up with Mind, the mental health charity, to launch a Mental Health Ambassador programme. The programme aims to establish a network of volunteers in affiliated running clubs and groups across England to support those who are experiencing mental health problems and raise awareness that mental health issues can be helped. “The role of the ambassadors is to champion the mental wellbeing benefits of running,” says Liz Purbrick, national disability manager for EA, “and to be a friendly face and point of contact for anyone experiencing mental health problems who wants to start, return to or continue running.”

England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador Programme

MHA Run England group

And that’s exactly the role Stephanie Mason was keen to take on after being asked to be an ambassador for EA this year. Diagnosed with depression in her teens, Stephanie has had first hand experience living with crippling mental health problems and, crucially, has discovered the vital role running can play in helping to overcome them.

“I was diagnosed with depression when I was 17. Since then I’ve been on every antidepressant known to man and seen many psychiatrists and counselors. I self-harmed and contemplated ending my life on a regular basis. In 2010, I met my soulmate Oliver and we hit it off straight away. We had our first daughter, Harriet, in 2012. He understood my depression. I’d always been honest about it as it was a part of me that needed loving too.

“After having Harriet I suffered post-natal depression, but got through it with the support of friends, Oliver and my mental health team. In 2013 I became pregnant with our second daughter, Florence. During March 2014, when I was five months pregnant, my depression took over me like a cloud of smoke. I ended up with a plan to end my life written down on paper. Oliver realized and took me to my GP who in turn sent us to Accident & Emergency. I was seen by a psychiatrist and told that I needed to be admitted into a psychiatric ward. If I didn’t go voluntarily, I would be sectioned, and admitted against my own will, for my own, and my unborn baby’s, safety.

“There were no psychiatric beds free in the West Midlands so I was taken to a mental health facility in North Yorkshire, where I stayed for four weeks. This was the hardest time of my life. I saw Harriet once, and missed her second birthday. Things couldn’t get worse.

“After weeks of medication changes, daily visits with the psychiatrist, therapy and a lot of thinking, I got better and returned home. I had my daughter Florence in the summer of 2014 and returned to work as a nurse eight months later.

“I started jogging in the park after having Florence to have some ‘me’ time and lose my baby weight. Running gave me balance and it gave me a way of managing my mental health in a positive way. I have since only had a few setbacks and I put this down to running.

“I found it brilliant for de-stressing and escaping the physically and mentally exhausting job of being a mum to two children under two. It kept me sane. I followed a Couch to 5K programme via an app on my phone, and made it to that distance without stopping. This made me proud of myself for the first time in ages! However, in the winter, due to having anxiety about being out alone in the dark, I stopped running.

“A friend recommended Mums on the Run Fitness Club, in Solihull. I contacted Sarah Reeves, the founder and coach, and went for a run with the group. Although it was dark, we worked on building stamina, speed and distance. Running became part of my identity and gave me a new life, mentally, physically and socially.

“In October last year, I competed my first half-marathon with the club. My confidence was at its best and I did it! The feeling I got crossing the finish line was euphoric. I was on top of the world! It was another achievement that I never thought was possible. Physically and mentally I was the healthiest I had ever been. All because I went out for a run one day when life was beating me down.

“A few months ago, our head coach asked me if I would like to become an assistant coach. I jumped at the chance, attended my Leadership in Running Fitness course and sent off my DBS (Disclosure Barring Service, formerly CRB) form. When I led my first group out as Coach Steph I was nervous but I did it. I bloody loved it!

“The person I am now is in a very good place. Now I want to help others with mental health problems. I am very open about my story and hope that it helps others to speak up and get help. I am proud to be a mental health ambassador for England Athletics.”

For more information about the England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador programme, visit: www.englandathletics.org/disability-athletics/mental-health-charter/mental-health-ambassadors

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NMA’s 2020 Lifestyle Magazine of the Year, Women’s Running provides expert advice on gear and training, motivation from your favourite runners and the latest running news.

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