Loneliness is affecting more and more people in the UK and has had a huge impact on physical and mental health.
Connections to other people and community is fundamental to protecting mental health and as such is the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
For 40-year-old Richard Cameron from Chesterfield, mental health struggles combined with a big move from New Zealand to the UK, leaving behind friends and family, meant life was becoming a struggle.
But thanks, in-part, to running and finding new friends through his local Jog Derbyshire group, things have become much more manageable and positive.
Dealing with mental health struggles
“It’s something that I’ve dealt with quite a lot all my life. A good few years ago for me it came to a bit of a head. I ended up breaking down in tears, crying to my wife saying, ‘I don’t know what to do’, because the hole was so deep and so dark that I didn’t know how to get out of it.
“You basically end up so tired and lethargic because you’re pretending. So you go to work, you put on an act for the whole day pretending like everything’s alright and then you’re just knackered by the end of it. It just took it’s toll in the end.”
Losing social connections
Having moved away from friends and family had made things more difficult for Richard.
He said: “Being from New Zealand, one of the things you lose is contact with is your mates you grew up with. So at the age of 30, 40, trying to find mates again is tough. Particularly people that you can confide in and talk to, so I really struggled with that. I think there is a stigma around men and talking about your feelings, although it is getting better and there is there is more and more support becoming available.”
Discovering a love of running
Alongside a number of other ways to support his mental health, Richard discovered exercise, and in particular running, played a big part.
He said: “What I found out for my myself was that exercise helped me a lot in terms of being able to have that break. Home with three kids, life’s tough, you’ve got demands, you’ve got responsibilities.
“Running gave me that opportunity to clear my head, move on and go back into it refreshed. I just really enjoy it, I’m just sort of free.
“Sometimes it gets to a point where my wife says, ‘right you’ve not been for a run,’ just to get me out the house to get that reset. She knows if I’ve not been out for exercise or had a stressful day that there’s actually no point in me staying here. It’s more beneficial for everyone if I go and have a run than stay in the house. So running for me is a bit of a must.”
Making new friends
Keen to build new friendships alongside his love of running, Richard joined Jog Derbyshire Chesterfield.
He said: “Part of the joining of the group was to try and develop friendships and other people that I could run with, because obviously running on your own is great but sometimes you need a little bit more.
“There have been times, particularly in the early days when I’d step out the door and then I’d step back in because the anxiety would kick in and I’d freak out a little bit. But after that first visit to the group I felt relieved, because it wasn’t as big or as scary as I thought it was going to be.
“It was just really nice, really welcoming, really warm and I just knew straight away it worked for me. The social aspect, the fact that nobody’s left behind, we all just get on with it.
“So for me it’s just the likeminded people that I’m running with and the fact we can have a laugh and a joke. But we can also talk about serious stuff if we want to.
“I’ve not stopped coming. Thursday is my day for running now it is in the calendar on Thursdays I run with the group.”
Socialising through running
That connection and encouragement from the group has also expanded into other events.
He said: “What I’ve found is, because running’s for me, quite often I go to races by myself and I race on my own. You might chat to some people that are there, but ultimately they tend to be there as a group of other people.
“I’d like to try and encourage other people that don’t race that it’s not that scary – 5k, 10k, half marathon, whatever you’re up for, that we can go together as a group. Like we experienced at Derby 10k and Bolsover 10k that was a lot of fun.
“For me personally that just makes race day when you’ve got some mates that you run with, you see how they’re doing/progressing, help them along with a bit of cheering, a tap on the back. It’s that togetherness.”
Becoming a co-leader
His experience with the group also spurred him on to become a co-leader so he could support others.
Richard said: “I’m quite a caring person, I like to make sure everyone’s ok and if they need help they can come and talk to me. I think being a co-leader gave me that bit more capacity to be able to help if needed. At Jog Derbyshire Chesterfield no one is left behind, we run together as one.
“I think the structure that Jog Derbyshire’s got is brilliant. It just works. Because of it’s friendly nature, it’s sociability and it kind of relates to everybody, whatever background they have, wherever they come from, whatever they do. But running is the thing that brings us all together and because there’s no expectation and we all stick together.”