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Mental Health Q&A with new Sports President Rebecca Blair

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Credit: Stuart Graham

Interview by Harry McArthur
Answers by Rebecca Blair

Q – What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term ‘mental health’?

A – Speaking out

Q – Do you feel sports people are more prone to poor mental health than others, because of needing to perform to a high level as well as study?

A – I think that anyone can be affected by mental health. Coming from a sports background, where I’d know more about it, coming to uni has highlighted that when you’re at school there wasn’t as much pressure, and maybe the step up to uni can bring out an underlying issue or can make someone more likely to seek help and other things like that.

But when it comes to sport, I play sport and study as well, but I know people that have personally been affected by mental health issues that have played at a high level. Even if you’re just out playing a sport casually, as well as struggling with assignment deadlines, everything starts to build up. I feel that combining deadlines and sport at the same time could enhance someone’s risk of getting a mental health issue.

Q – What’s your opinion on the current facilities provided by the university to combat mental health, in general and in terms of sport?

A – I personally don’t think there are enough [counsellors] in place. I think that coming into my fourth year with Dave Keenan as Union President, he took a big stance on mental health and I think with someone like Dave being in that position, having the voice that he’s had, has really helped. I feel that this year you can see the posters put up on the walls, and especially in the student union areas, I feel that things like that need to continue.

However in the past I haven’t really been aware of the facilities that are in place, and people need to be able to see these things, because when you see or hear about other people’s experiences you are more likely to go and seek help yourself. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of; if you need help then you need help. Like we discussed earlier [prior to the interview] about the Aaron Lennon story coming out. You can see Aaron Lennon being a big name in football, playing for Everton and previously representing England, it’s being publicised by the press, and this can help others. It shows members of the public that if you need help then help is out there.

Q – Do you feel that a sports specific counsellor is required at the university, or do you think that another general counsellor would be sufficient for the sports players?

A – I think having someone there to deal with sports related issues would be good. I took part in someone’s dissertation this year that was about getting a sports psychologist on campus who is readily available if anyone needed to speak to them; that would be an ideal situation. There are things like that out there.

Being captain of the ladies first football team, we were approached by several Masters PhD students that study and actually want to practise with athletes. So if we can try and attract more of these Master students studying psychology then we can take advantage of both the sports and academic aspects of the university. When you give these people the opportunity to experience and learn then it is great because it also doesn’t take up any of the uni’s funds and is beneficial to both the athletes and the students. This is something that I want to work on during my term [as union sports president]. I want to create access with these students and build some sort of partnership. If that can be accessed and if it is successful it is something we can build upon in the future.

Q – During your time as Sports President would you be able to help combat mental health issues?

A – It is something that I definitely want to try and work on. It is making sure that the people that do struggle with mental health in sport have some sort of sports specific access, such as a sports psychologist. I think a lot of emphasis may be put on elite players that may be struggling with perhaps performance and academics, but I also want to ensure everyone affiliated with the sports union can be given access.

This could be done through group sessions, as there may be multiple members of the same team struggling, but I feel that access is vital. The more you can speak up about something the easier it becomes to acknowledge that there is help out there. The more we can get this point across the more likely that someone who is struggling is to go out and seek that help.

Q – Have you had any experience in helping others previously who have experienced mental health in sport?

A – Yeah, there have been cases during my time as captain that people in my team, and sometimes people in other sports, have been struggling with mental health issues. Being the person that I am I always want to help people. Although I may not have a degree in psychology, it’s being a friend to someone and just being someone who can listen.

I felt that it opened my eyes a lot when someone has confided in me, even just being there to listen, whether or not they want you to talk through it. It all comes down to being a friend. If they’re maybe not ready to go and seek help from a professional then you can always be a first point of contact, someone they can confide in and trust, and speaking is always the first step in going out and getting the help that they need.

Q – What would be your main piece of advice to someone that is currently experiencing a mental health issue?

A – Having not been personally affected, but seeing friends struggle, my advice would definitely be to speak out and try to seek help. As I said earlier, if you don’t feel you are ready yet to take that first step and speak to someone (doctor or psychologist) even if you can confide in a friend or relative or someone you can trust because there is always someone there who is willing to help you.

Taking that first step to find someone, to try and get help, just to say that you are struggling and need that wee bit of help you realise it is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. For me taking that step is massive and after you take it you should be so proud of yourself, because the biggest and scariest part is admitting that you maybe do need that little bit of help but again, there is no shame in it at all! Even if you’re not feeling confident about it, just try to be comfortable speaking to someone. Just take a breath and speak, because that truly is the first step to getting better.

Q-  Is there anything else you would want to add?

A – All I would add is that our student union has an open door policy and I am definitely going to continue that next year. I am an outgoing person who is easy to speak to, and I would say that if anyone did ever feel that they were struggling and didn’t have anyone to speak to that I would always be there and my door would always be open, even if it wasn’t sports related. I am always there for anyone who is ever struggling. If someone didn’t know who to speak to I would always be there.

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