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Top athletes raise awareness of mental health issues in sport

28 February 2014

Lyndsey Boardman

UCLan teams up with State of Mind charity

The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) has welcomed a number of top sporting names for a joint event with rugby league charity State of Mind designed to raise awareness of mental health issues in sport.

Former Wigan Warriors players Danny Sculthorpe, Brian Carney and Terry O’Connor visited UCLan along with Hatton Promotions boxer Adam Little, former professional footballer Andy Brownrigg and ex-professional rugby league player Jimmy Gittins, who was paralysed from the chest down in 2002 following an injury, to share their own personal experiences of dealing with mental health issues.

The athletes talked about the pressures of participating in sport, the stress caused by a fear of failure and how they coped with adjusting to life following retirement.

Suicide is the single biggest killer of young men in the UK.* State of Mind was set up in 2011 with the aim of improving the mental health and well-being of rugby league players and dispelling the myth that macho men shouldn’t talk about their feelings.

The UCLan event also brought the professional athletes together with students, local sports clubs and other interested parties to discuss ways to get young males talking about mental health issues, how to offer support to people who are suffering and where to go for expert help.

 

“Rugby league is a tough sport and there is a perception that players can’t talk about their feelings because it is seen as being weak.”

Jimmy Gittins, a former Dewsbury Rams and Wakefield Wildcats player, broke his neck in two places in 2002 making him paralysed from the chest down. Over the last 12 years Jimmy has learned to walk again and completed a number of physical challenges for charity.

He said: “I’m delighted to participate in this important event and share my experiences.

“It’s my understanding that the body can achieve what the mind believes. This, along with positive expectations, support, relationships, opportunities and success are incredibly important factors when developing personal abilities to cope and develop resilience.”

Malcom Rae OBE, the former chair of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) Mental Health Society and UCLan Honorary Fellow, co-founded State of Mind following the death of former Wigan Warriors star Terry Newton who took his own life in 2010.

(Back row L-R: Brian Carney, Phil Veivers, Danny Sculthorpe Jimmy Gittins, Terry O'Connor,Leona Trimble, Malcolm Rae, Steve McCann
Front row L-R: Andy Brownrigg, Phil Cooper, Will Stringer, Adam Little.)

“Our students will benefit greatly from the discussions stimulated by the reflections of professional sports people and the input of mental health experts involved in the event."

He commented: “Rugby league is a tough sport and there is a perception that players can’t talk about their feelings because it is seen as being weak.

“State of Mind aims to challenge this and use sport as a way to bring people together to share problems and ask for help. Although the charity focuses on rugby league we’re thrilled to welcome athletes from other disciplines to UCLan to get a broad perspective and share ideas of best practice.”

The Academic Director of Sport at UCLan Dr Adrian Ibbetson commented: “We are delighted to team up with State of Mind for this important event in order to raise the profile and awareness of mental health in the sporting context. Our students have benefitted greatly from the discussions stimulated by the reflections of professional sports people and the input of mental health experts involved in the event."

* According to mental health charity Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM).