How running helped my mental health
As January comes to an end and we reflect on the first month of a New Year, whether that’s trying to achieve a new year resolution, attempting dry January or just getting through the cold weather, it’s definitely a time to be kind to ourselves. Our men’s mental health Stepladder team in Somerset recently caught up with Andy Meek, a member of our steering group to hear his thoughts on mental health and how running helps.
Read the full interview with Andy below and watch Andy in action in this video which we filmed in Burnham-on-Sea.
1. Could you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Andy Meek, I am 52 years old and I live in Bridgwater.
2. What inspired you to get into running and when did you start?
I got into running in 2010/2011. My wife completed the Bristol 10K not long after we had our second child, George and I said on the day that I would do it the following year. Being inspired by my wife Lynn and it was also a case that I hit 40, mid-life thing and I wanted to get fit. It also helped that I was raising money for charities close to my heart and each race I have done I have fundraised.
So, when January hit in 2011 and I turned 40, I decided to get into running properly and started training. I first started my training on a treadmill, it was five minutes to begin with and I would do a voice recording and say one minute at a certain pace. This helped me to build up and I then completed the race in the May. I was really pleased with what I managed to achieve and because I needed to do it. I hadn’t run since I played football when I was 26 years old, so it was a bit of a big break in between.
3. When did you realise that running was helping your mental health?
Back in 2016 as a family we lost my wife’s Mum. That triggered me as I had lost my Mum 13 years before that, so it was quite difficult at that time. We got into bad habits – takeaways, pizza, drinking – and I ended up needing to take some time off work. I was fortunate to have support through occupational health who encouraged me to continue running and that it would help. I also knew I needed to keep running through this time to help my mood.
I used to run along the seafront at Burnham-on-Sea and as I could see my workplace from there. I found this was an escape to be by the sea It was perfect to park up and just go for a run whatever the weather. I find it lifts your mind, at the time my mind wouldn’t shut off, it was just continually going. As I slipped down further and further, it really was great to get outdoors and just run.
There was one point that I practiced what I was going to do (to end my life) and just before that she put her arms around me and said; “Please don’t think we are going to be better off without you”. Those two things together made me think to myself, just talk to anyone. I’ve also done counselling, CBT, Reiki – not ‘manly’ stuff but that’s not the point, nowadays it’s stuff to help you and stuff to help you get out of that mindset.
4. Why do you think men don’t speak openly about mental health?
There is a stigma and I know that word is used a lot. It never bothered me talking about what I was going through and I think more men should feel like that. More men should openly talk about things, there is the ‘macho’ thing, but a lot of people don’t understand it. A lot of older men seem to not understand but have probably been through it themselves and not realising it just thinking they are sad. I was at my lowest in 2019 and my friend was going through a similar thing, and we would talk to each other and just that text “how you doing mate” was really important. The term ‘man up’ is still often used and it’s just words that don’t need to be said, it’s detrimental to people’s mind and wellbeing.
5. How important is it for something like Stepladder to exist and help connect with men?
Creating forums, especially online resources for men to engage and connect with is needed. We sit in bed on our phones, scrolling, we need to be looking at things that are out there and that can help us. Look into something like Stepladder, or what activities are local. I am part of the steering group and it’s there, it’s online. Life throws some stuff at you and you need that forum or a place to go to get advice. Something like Stepladder because it’s there, you can seek help without the stigma of having to go to the doctors or reporting it somewhere. There is so much out there to help with your mental health, it’s there, use it. Connect, talk and open up.
6. What would you say your top advice for someone struggling with their mental health?
I would say start looking into things or places you can visit, join a walking group, find a running group, there are online groups, new hobbies to discover that can take your mind away from the negatives. There are so many different places that you need to be aware of and try and use. If you want to go to the doctors, go, or try speaking to your work colleagues. Just try these things as you never know what might help. I’ve been there where I’ve been so low and thinking everyone hates me and I couldn’t go to different places because I felt like people were laughing at me and looking at me. When you’re at your lowest you can feel like that, just do what you need to do to help yourself.
Our website features a range of advice, helplines and resources that can help you with your mental health and wellbeing – Find out more about Stepladder here.
For local helplines – Visit Men’s Mental Health Helplines for more information