Boxing club urges people to talk about mental health
As the country is encouraged to be more open about mental health, a Midlands boxing club is urging people to make sure they ask for help.
The call comes during Mental Health Awareness week – itself a sign of the increasing understanding of the issues that affect people from every walk of life.
It is a message delivered by Joe Lockley, head coach at Bright Star Boxing Academy in Shifnal, and Stu Cook, who runs the club's 'Counter Punch' mental health sessions.
Stu, 32 and from Telford, is open about his own mental health struggles. The former Welsh Guard candidly talks about how boxing, and meeting people through the sport, basically saved his life.
The struggles with PTSD, after five years in the army and a horror tour of Afghanistan in 2009, had left him in a place where he was concerned for his future.
The tour saw him experience more than any human should face, surviving three landmine blasts, one rocket propelled grenade attack and a heavy machine gun round that was stopped inches from his head by bullet proof glass.
Stu's recovery has been a remarkable success story, and while the battle is never over, he credits the focus of the club and those around him as a large part of being able to live without fear of his own mental health issues.
He said: "Mental health is not really something you can deal with on your own, you always need that helping hand.
"There is a thing where people who feel that they can't do it on their own feel like they have failed. That couldn't be further from the truth.
"If people are struggling just ask for help – any help that is out there, not just us. Always seek help."
The Counter Punch sessions are for men only –the club is planning to introduce female sessions once the gym reopens – and provide an opportunity for men to talk, exercise or learn the skills of boxing.
Stu said anyone who wants to try will be welcomed in to the group.
He added: "You don't have to be having a mental health episode, just even if it is day-to-day struggles with stress or struggling in any way, it does not have to be mental health, just come and seek help.
"If you want to come and watch then you can, if you want to talk you can. Even if you want to just do boxing you can do that. It is whatever you are confident to do and it is at your own pace.
Stu explains the differences in his life, with support and confidence, having a huge impact.
He said: "I am now confident to go out places. Before I could not go out anywhere without researching it.
"I am able to socialise with my friends, live a normal life with what is wrong with me but I am 100 times better."
Joe said mental health is a key part of everything the club does.
He said: "I know there is a real stigma around boxing, everyone thinks you have to be the toughest person in the world but boxing can do so much for people who are struggling, if you can remove that stigma and talk about why they want to box in the first place."
He added: "Counter Punch is all about bringing people together, sitting around having a chat and setting some goals. The boxing itself brings the endorphins out but it also lets them work as a team to support each other to do things and talk about what they have achieved.
"That is so important, even small goals, being able to get the support from other in achieving them can make a big difference."