This is the first of an occasional blog by FCRC’s two mental health ambassadors, Trevor Kettle and Louise Riches, about all things running and good mental health.

A number of weeks ago we organised a #runandtalk club evening which was supported by one of the biggest turnouts I think we have ever had at the club. The sight of a very long snake of runners having a chilled run, chatting to a partner they probably had never spoken to (or possibly even noticed before) was an amazing sight! However, what was the point behind the evening and what were we trying to encourage people to think about and do?

Mental illness touches most people. Many of us will know a family member or friend who has struggled to overcome mental health problems. The stress that mental illness can bring is compounded by the large lack of understanding and stigma that people who suffer can experience from society at large. This misunderstanding extends to many non-mental health trained healthcare professionals, who often lack the skills to deal with a person’s depression, that can so often be linked to a long term physical health condition. Myths such as the commonly mistaken belief that conditions like schizophrenia have traits that include a split personality and a tendency towards violence, often wrongly perpetuated by the media, can help to isolate people with such conditions and alienate them from the support they so desperately need.

However, we do know that physical exercise can really help people to overcome many of the negative thoughts that mental illness can bring, partly by the release of endorphins. According to scientific studies, regular exercise works as well as medication does at reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression (which are common to many mental health problems) and the effects can, in some cases, be long lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.

What then can the running community do, to help people with mental health problems? Firstly, it’s good to talk!  Whilst helping to lead our first #runandtalk night back in October, I couldn’t help noticing just how open everyone was, and how many of our members’ own stories were being shared – both on the night, and online in the weeks around the event. Sharing our stories and just listening to people who have had to overcome their own feelings or perhaps even shame, without prejudice and judgement, can go a long way to reducing the negative stigma that surrounds these issues. Even if your evening did not include a talk about these issues, having a friendly chat with a person who you had never spoken with before starts to improve our communication channels in the club and how we all communicate with each other. This is a vital first step. It gives us a solid foundation by which we can also encourage people who face daily difficulties such as poor motivation, anxieties and depression to join our club and start to participate in our wonderful sport of running – and begin to enjoy life again.

Please approach Trevor and Louise on any club night if you want to ask anything about any aspect of mental health and illness and we will do our best to answer it. We will of course respect everyone’s confidentiality.

Our second #runandtalk night will be on Tuesday 31st January. Please support the evening like we know FCRC can and help the fight to reduce the impact of mental illness on people’s lives.