The inspiring stories of four people who turned to physical fitness to manage their mental health after their lives were impacted by suicide are being shared in a new video series from UK charity CALM and online fitness brand Level Fitness.

Through intimate interviews and first-hand accounts, the series explores the ways in which these four people have used exercise during difficult periods in their lives, both to improve their mental health and to become part of a community where they can talk openly about their feelings.

On average, 12 men take their own lives every day in the UK, and sporting communities can play an integral role in progressing the conversation around men’s mental health by providing an opportunity for men to talk openly with peers.

The first video (below) introduces Marcus Chapman, a cycling and running trainer who set up the ‘Nelson’s Tour de Test Valley’ cycling sportive in honour of his friend Nelson Pratt who died from suicide. Nelson, a professional Olympic snowboarding coach, was passionate about cycling and Marcus started the annual event as a way to encourage people to talk about their own mental health. The event now attracts over 1000 participants and in 2018 the funds raised helped prevent over 675 suicides.

Following this, viewers will meet Stefanie Stavri who started the ‘Run 4 Rene’ running club following the passing of her brother Rene. Emotionally lost after her brother’s suicide, Stef found that running helped manage her grief, which is when she started ‘Run 4 Rene’ to connect with others going through similar things and to create a support network.

The third video features former professional footballer and boxer Leon McKenzie, who attempted suicide after a career-ending injury took an extreme toll on his mental health. During his recovery, Leon turned to boxing as an outlet to refocus the energy he had committed to his football career and he went on to professionally compete as a boxer. Now, Leon is a fitness coach, motivational speaker and official CALM ambassador, sharing his own experience to encourage men to talk about their mental health struggles.

The final video features author and journalist Poorna Bell, who turned to powerlifting after her husband’s suicide. Plagued by a feeling of helplessness after her husband’s passing, Poorna was introduced to weights by her personal trainer and she quickly noticed changes, both to her physical and mental strength. Poorna is now a competitive powerlifter and sees her new hobby as something that came from a place of extreme sadness but which has had a positive effect on her life, a message she shares through her role as an official CALM ambassador.

“Cycling and talking has without doubt helped me deal with Nelson’s death and improved my mental health, and now it’s incredible to watch other people feel the same benefits,” Marcus said. “Suicide is still the single biggest killer of young men, and this has to change. If Nelson’s story and our event has saved one life, it’s all been worthwhile. Ride on Nelly.”

“I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for the routine and sense of achievement that powerlifting gives me – because the irony of losing a loved one to suicide is that it makes you over 60% more at risk of suicide yourself,” Poorna Bell commented. “I feel a sense of community from fellow lifters, and I’ve seen how it has fostered amazing friendships among men. The work CALM is doing is so important, because it’s letting men who might feel isolated, or might be struggling, know that it’s okay, that help is at hand and that these communities are here. I wish Rob had been able to feel like he could reach out, but there is comfort in knowing that everything I do with CALM is in his name – and as someone who was a great friend to others, especially when they felt lost – I think it’s a fitting legacy.”

The video series aims to motivate viewers to use fitness as a tool to improve mental health and to become part of a fitness community for additional support.

“Physical activity is great for our wellbeing and it also has the power to bring together communities of like-minded people and connect our supporters – online and offline – through their interests and in a way that’s conducive to good health,” said Simon Gunning, CEO of the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM). “We’re sure that through telling such powerful stories across the Level Headed campaign, we’ll be able to reach and inspire many to try a new activity or event with CALM.”

Click here to watch the first video. The three additional videos to be published throughout August as well as two additional videos created by Level Fitness to promote CALM’s fitness community programs.

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Nisha Kotecha is the Founder of Good News Shared. Having worked and volunteered for charities in the UK for over 10 years, Nisha is on a mission to highlight how amazing charities are.

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