Don't suffer in silence

1st July, 2019

Minerva is affiliated to Rowing Together for Healthy Minds (RTHM), an organisation that seeks to promote healthy conversations and awareness about mental health and wellbeing in our sport.

Minerva member, Ben Hawkes, is one of a number of club individuals who have come forward to talk to others about their own perspective on mental health.

How does rowing help or affect your mental wellbeing?

To say rowing saved my life would probably be a little melodramatic, but it did provide the impetus I needed to recover from a particularly bad bout of depression in Spring 2013. I’d lost my job, lost a relationship and was drinking far too much. Depression followed and I was put on a chunky old dose of anti-depressants. A friend told me to focus on one thing; I chose fitness. I’d been fit before so I decided I’d be fit again. My 2K time was 8:40, which I started working on as quickly as I could and I signed up to an LTR course with Minerva.

Are there specific elements of the training or rowing that help?

Getting out and doing something elemental, which connects you to the outside and has nothing to do with work or the myriad other pressures of life, is a massive benefit. But, for all of that the biggest benefit for most people is being part of a gang. The majority of people only experience being part of a team at school or in work. And often that will not be a positive experience, or it might be long in the past. THAT is the biggest the benefit for me. My crew are my brothers and we’re always there for each other.

Do you think we talk about this enough?

It’s 2019. If you stand on the top of Facebook and throw a stone you will hit someone talking about mental health and wellbeing. I’ve had bouts of depression for all of my adult life so I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m happy to talk about it with anyone who wants to. What is striking, is that the moment you do talk about it (especially with other blokes) is the moment you realise that mental health problems are everywhere and everyone suffers to some degree.

Men account for 75% of suicides in the UK. Suicides are generally the result of people thinking there is no other way out so, the key in reductions is making sure they know that there is. I think we talk about mental health plenty; but we don’t talk about it in the right way to connect with men…yet. The TV special with the Duke of Cambridge and Peter Crouch was almost on the money. Practical, honest and not touchy-feely. We’re practical beings and we need practical conversations and solutions. If someone like Crouch says to the nations men; “Mate, I’ve been there; it’s sh*t but it does get better”, that will be so much more effective than the kindlier, softer way that we generally talk about these things. I have that kind of conversation with people all the time.

My main issue is that when we talk about health from the neck up; people start getting hysterical. Depending on what medical journal you pay attention to; depression is a consequence of inflammation in the body or a problem with plumbing in the brain. Do either of those speak to a fundamental weakness in the moral fibre of the sufferer? Do they hell. You wouldn’t think twice about taking a pill if you had high blood pressure so why would you for anxiety or depression? It’s just health. The distinction between the mental and the physical is not always helpful.

It’s sometimes more difficult for men to talk about mental health – do you agree?

Yes and no. I don’t have a problem talking about it but then again I have a minimal embarrassment threshold and no real sense of the rules of social behaviour. My crew don’t have a problem talking about it; our after-outing coffees almost always turn into therapy sessions. Middle-aged men rarely get the chance to talk about it so we take advantage of the fact we trust each other and we’re brothers.

In general? Yes it is difficult to talk about it. Men do cast themselves in a certain role and weakness generally has no part in that. That is why it is crucial for more people in sport to talk about it. I’ve spoken to people who have won medals for courage under fire about mental health problems. Does the fact they suffer make them any less courageous? No, of course it doesn’t. And if you did think it did, you’d do well to keep your opinions to yourself!

The responsibility lies with everyone, and it’s as simple as two golden rules:

1 – Be Excellent to Each Other
2 – Every week, ask someone: “How are you doing?” and listen to the answer.

It may not make the difference between life and death; but you might change someone’s day. If you change someone’s day you’ll probably change their week and then they’ll be cooking on gas.

Ben Hawkes

Other News

The Ones To Watch

Exciting wins and regional selection for crews, in the Masters, Senior and Junior age-brackets, mark growing achievements for Minerva Bath Rowing Club

Read more