Rebekah Valero-Lee Candidate Advice
Sale Sharks Community Trust delivers powerful mental health event for Morson employees and clients #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
We were delighted to host Sale Sharks Community Trust this week as they delivered their inspiring ‘Balls to That – Mental Health Awareness’ session to over 40 Morson employees and clients at our head office.
Designed to raise awareness of mental health symptoms and coping techniques, the talk was led by army veteran and deaf rugby star Craig Monaghan who uses his powerful, personal journey to educate others on how to tackle mental health head-on.
We were thrilled that veteran and Morson Ambassador, Andy Reid, opened the event, giving a brief overview of his own mental health struggles after losing limbs in an IED blast whilst on tour in Afghanistan. Handing over to Craig, he finished his introduction by highlighting the importance of communication, advising the audience to get out of the habit of answering ‘how are you?’ with a standard ‘I’m fine’ if there is an issue.
The rest of the session was led by Sale Sharks Community Rugby Coach, Jack Leech and Craig Monaghan. Craig’s army career came to an abrupt end when his battalion was attacked by the Taliban in one of the worst attacks on British soldiers in Afghan. 8 of his comrades died in the attack and Craig was left with brain damage, deafness and severe physical wounds. His challenges with mental health started here.
PTSD and social isolation – techniques to cope
Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social isolation, Craig spoke passionately about how he suffered from the guilt of being left alive while his friends died and the loss of his army career, leading to three failed suicide attempts.
After a medical discharge, Craig struggled with everyday tasks and became angry at the world, lashing out at the people who were trying to help him.
‘In the army, you’re a warrior – therefore, you don’t feel like you can admit that you have a problem, you have to be strong. My friends had been killed so I felt like there was no one left who would understand what I’d been through. I was scared to admit that I was struggling’.
Consequently, despite there being mental health resources for ex-forces personnel, it took him several years to become receptive to the idea of getting support.
‘Don’t get me wrong, the help was there but I used to sit in the councillor’s office, and not talk. I had the mentality that it was everyone else’s problem, not mine, I wasn’t ready to admit or accept that I needed help’.
Craig explained that the change in him happened like a switch, ‘one day I just said, no I’m not fine, I can’t shake this feeling – and that put me on the road to recovery’. With the support of the people around him, he started to open up and talk about his experiences. One of the main techniques he uses is setting a goal each week, ‘just getting out of bed used to be a challenge so I’d set that as my goal, then went onto things like running to the end of the street, training for 5 minutes longer per day’.
Small goal setting was key giving him focus and ensured he didn’t get de-motivated.
How sport became my voice
His road to recovery is ongoing but through regular professional mental health help and getting back into rugby, Craig has conquered the seemingly impossible. His list of achievements since medical discharge is extensive, including being the first Afghanistan veteran to become a full-time athlete, para-triathlons, and competing in the Warrior Games.
After being told he would never play rugby again he has battled to get back into the sport he loves, playing internationally for England Deaf Rugby (6 caps).
‘In fact, I’m actually delivering this session with a broken leg. I broke a record 10 days ago by playing rugby for 29 hours and 30 minutes, broke my leg in the process’
The impact on us
Jack Leech (Community Rugby Coach and founder of Balls to That) attributed to the techniques which helped Craig to manage his mental health issues such as open communication, an active lifestyle and setting small achievable goals rather than large challenges can be effective coping mechanisms.
Craig’s story highlights that while his issues with anxiety and sleep deprivation stem from his time in the army, mental health is universal.
‘I have friends who suffer from anxiety and they’ve never been to war. Mental health is something that affects many of us and it’s about finding techniques to cope with it – for me sport was a huge part of the recovery process because I’m naturally competitive. For other’s it’ll be different, it’s about finding your drivers, being confident enough to work out what makes a positive change in you’.
Jack started the programme having suffered with his own mental health issues after a shoulder injury. He founded Balls to That as an impactful way to raise awareness and to get companies thinking about how to create positive environments. After the session attendees felt more equipped to talk about mental health and deal with everyday challenges and most importantly, they were more confident to help others with their mental health issues. One attendee commented,
‘Superb presentation, it has really helped me. Much more aware of my current mental health state.’
This event highlighted that while Mental Health Awareness Week is a fantastic initiative, the conversation needs to extend beyond just 7 days and instead be a part of our everyday lives.
Tackling mental health doesn’t start by forcing people to face their problems, it’s about creating environments where people feel comfortable to share their experiences, their feelings and fears. It’s about recognising the signs and symptoms in yourself and in others and being there when you are needed.
So, let’s do the little things that make a difference, let’s say ‘balls to that’ to cliché phrases, let’s be open to conversation and let’s look after each other that little bit more.