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Tackling the stigma of mental health issues – Danny Sculthorpe

‘I’m driven to prevent suicide as I’m aware that behind the statistics there are devastated families and friends whose lives are changed forever,’ Danny Sculthorpe, Ambassador for State of Mind Sport charity, and former rugby league player.

Hello, I’m Danny Sculthorpe. I’m a former professional rugby league player. I was fortunate to play for England and was appointed captain on two occasions.

I’ve also experienced severe depression and despair, with frequent thoughts of taking my own life. I felt I had become a burden to my family and my wife and children would be better off without me. Fortunately, with the help of my family, a counsellor and clinical support, I’ve been able to recover. Since then we have had another beautiful third child, Isla, and I can now again enjoy family activities and coach my son with his sporting aspirations.

I lost a great former team-mate, Terry Newton, who tragically took his own life when his career ended. Terry found it difficult coming to terms when his career was over. I wish I knew then what I know now.

Today my compelling focus is to share the lessons I’ve learnt and to help others. I feel sympathy and empathy as I’ve been through it. I do this as an Ambassador for State of Mind Sport, a charity, which aims to use the power of sport to tackle stigma and reach vulnerable men in order to prevent harm.

We use stigma-free environments like sports clubs, sporting terminology and metaphors blokes can relate to. We also encourage timely help-seeking, looking out for mates and talking about the highlights from our sporting experiences, the benefits of setting goals and working as a team.

Our prime focus has been on men, as they are generally most at risk of experiencing dark times and are less likely to seek help. It is a fact that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in this country. I also understand that middle-aged men are the highest ‘at risk’ age group. It is clear that blokes are less likely to talk about their problems and less able to deal with them.

We also recognise the important role that women play in supporting the men in their lives, be it husbands, brothers, sons or colleagues and in enabling timely support. I’m out most days, around the country speaking to a range of groups including schools, colleges, sports clubs and prisons.

More recently we are being asked by enlightened employers to speak to their workforce. They see the cost benefits of a healthy working environment, a workforce who feel valued and supported, and developing coping with stress skills. Many of the blokes we speak to seem to relate to us as rugby players because they identify with the sporting culture of not showing the opposition, your coach or team-mates that you are struggling.

A ‘take home’ message we give out is that it is a strength not a weakness to seek help. I know that if I hadn’t done so I would not be here today and my children would have missed out on me as their dad.

A further key message we try to get over is to look out for mates who may be finding life tough. If you notice they aren’t themselves, seem not to be enjoying their usual crack, or perhaps over-quiet or withdrawn, ask them if they are okay. Showing you care, that they are valued and you are alongside them can make a big difference. If you do, you could save a life.

I’m telling my story and saying more about what lessons I’ve learnt at Health and Care Innovation Expo 2018 on Wednesday 5 September at 10am. It would be great to see you there. Please register and come along to meet me.