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Mental Health Awareness Week - A personal story...

Mr Nick Ogden - Instructor
Mr Nick Ogden

I wanted to write this blog about martial arts and mental health not because it seemed like a way of linking Tang Soo Do with Mental Health Awareness Week, but because I wanted people to understand how something such as training in a martial arts or any similar activity, combined with seeking help about your concerns, can in time have such a fundamental effect in how you can feel. I also wanted to give those that are possibly feeling in the wrong place that little bit of hope that things can get better. I know this personally, because I have been there.


I don’t want to sound too melodramatic when I say that my martial arts training really did help to save me, but it did.


Most of us have at some point known or know someone who has suffered with mental health issues and will understand how difficult it is for some people to deal with. Mental health has really come to the forefront of public health over the past few years thanks to organisations such as ‘Mind’ and the ‘Mental Health Foundation’, due in no small part to events such as this week's ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’. Thanks to that, what was once seen as a taboo subject is now something we can all talk about without judgement and questioning. The fact that we now feel we can discuss it more openly has really lifted the lid on how large scale mental health challenges are for all of us, male and female, young and old. It can be so easy for any one of us to suddenly and without realising it, slip into a position of trouble and worry.


I was very much one of those people. I always liked to think of myself as a very positive, very upbeat person, a bit of a jokester who loved to laugh, enjoyed life and on the face of it had no problems of any sort with my mental health. But how slowly and under the radar small changes happen that can cause bigger issues ahead. I found that simple pressures that on their own were nothing really to worry about, slowly started to add together and build up layer upon layer, so what was once an easily manageable concern became a behemoth of a worry, leading to an increase in anxiety and that feeling of losing control.


I really don’t want this to sound all “woe is me”, because that’s not how I want it to come across, but I do want to express to you how easily and scarily this can all mount up to leave you thinking there is no way out.


I am very lucky that we live in a time where mental health challenges are no longer anything to be ashamed of and that we can easily talk about it and being able to easily access professional help made me realise that things could get better. However, it took me months before I admitted I needed to go and seek help from the doctors, and even when diagnosed with anxiety and depression, still struggled to accept it and know how to deal with it effectively. A recent study by the Priory Group showed that of those polled, 77% of men had suffered with symptoms of common mental health conditions such as anxiety, stress or depression and 40% of men have never spoken to anyone about their mental health, with 29% of those saying they were "too embarrassed" to speak about it.


It took time, but in the end, I came round to the idea of talking openly about it with people. I ended up not being afraid to say ‘No’ if I didn’t want to do something or go somewhere because I felt low at that point, and I felt that the more I talked to people about how I felt, the more people started to understand how why I was like I was. I wasn’t a weaker person, or someone who needed their pity, I just needed their understanding as to how I felt, and how they could help me at that point in time.


I also realised that I needed to change certain things in my life that were causing these issues and look for alternative outlets to stress and anxiety. This is where my training in Martial Arts really came in useful. It was the time of the week where I could forget all my problems and just focus on one thing. Everyone else around me didn’t need to know about anything to do with me or any of the problems I had, they didn’t judge me or question me, and I could just release the stress built up in me by hitting the pads and towers. The physical exertion helped to release those great chemicals we all have inside us, and I would come off the mats feeling tired but happy. For those precious minutes I was in the Do Jang, my other troubles dissipated. The positive attitude from everyone training around you became a great lift, and the Do Jang was always (and still is) a place I always felt happy and content. The mental aspects of discipline and positivity that go hand in hand with the physical training was also a great help to steady me in uncharted times and gave me the understating to focus on individual elements one by one, and how they slowly build up to make something great - so that’s what I did. Roll on six years, and Martial Arts has now become a complete way of life for me, so that it is both my personal and professional life. The ideology of the art and the mental disciplines, along with great people around me, are something that I still believe helped keep me going in those darker times.


For me, my mental health has been one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had to face and, looking back, there is no way I could have done this on my own. Family and friends and mental health professionals were so important to helping me back up onto some sort of even keel, but it was also the change to my life that my Martial Arts training did for me that was completely unexpected, but so very positive both then and still now. No matter how low I feel these days, I know getting onto the mats will always help to lift my mood and spirit.


With this year’s awareness week having the theme of 'Movement: Moving more for our mental health' it has an added importance for me, as it brings the two things that I feel passionately about together. Firstly, find something, anything (for me it was Martial Arts), that can help give you some positive focus, any activity that helps you burn energy, release endorphins and forget about your troubles for an hour, as it really does give you ammunition to help battle these tough times. Secondly, remember there are always trained professionals who are at the end of the phone line, or a chat box that are not there to judge you and question your decisions that got you here, they are there to listen, and to guide, and to ultimately help you find that path back, however meandering that path may be.

We hope you have enjoyed the series of posts & blogs from this week. We will of course continue to support this great cause every year that we can.

Mr NIck Ogden

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