Student sports journalists at the University of South Wales (USW) have teamed up with sport stars, NHS heroes and community champions to tell inspiring stories aimed at lifting the Covid gloom.
Wales women’s football legends Helen Ward and Jess Fishlock, former Cardiff City goalkeeper Lee Kendall and Wales rugby internationals Owen Watkin and Josh Turnbull were among a sporting cast that joined students on the university’s BA Sports Journalism course for a series of special online broadcasts to mark Time To Talk Day (Thursday Feb 4).
Three separate video packages exploring the themes of ‘bouncebacks’, ‘inspiring others’ and ‘community care’, as well as a sports quiz, explored positive stories regarding mental health through interviews and discussion. Sporting figures, one of Wales’ foremost sports journalists, workers from the NHS front-line and hero fundraisers rallying to the cause of a stricken rugby club chairman all took part.
Blackwood-based Kendall last month walked 40 miles in one day to mark his 40th birthday, raising more than £3,500 for mental health charities.
He explained: “I wanted to raise awareness. The effects of mental health problems like depression and anxiety can lead to suicide.
“My family has been touched by suicide, losing my wife’s brother post coming out of the army. I also lost a close friend in former colleague Chris Barker (ex-Cardiff City defender) and we have also lost Gary Speed, who I was fortunate to work for at Sheffield United and through Wales Under-21s.
“Last July, during lockdown, I started struggling a bit myself so I set up a walking group. We’ve kept it going when we’ve been allowed and it has been helpful and enjoyable.
“The 40-mile walk was brilliant to do, it raised money and awareness – and I found out what blisters are all about!”
Haverfordwest manager Wayne Jones is also a community mental health support worker with Hywel Dda health board.
He explained the importance of people being willing to talk and seek support for their mental health.
“It’s testing times for us all. Change is a big, big problem for people.
“There’s so much (help) out there for people, who maybe aren’t aware. Mental health awareness has been promoted and maybe more now than ever.
“There’s a lot of organisations out there and charities, a lot of support peers for people and it’s raising awareness knowing that you need to go and speak to someone.”
Welsh sports journalist Simon Thomas also joined the event, talking about his recovery from cancer.
Thomas revealed how Wales rugby stars had helped him in his low moments, sending him a signed jersey through the post as he convalesced.
“I will never forget after Wales won the Grand Slam in 2019…after the match I was standing outside the home dressing room,” said Thomas.
“George North and Leigh Halfpenny, who must have had parties to get too, both took the time to come over and ask how I was. I also received a lovely message from Alun Wyn Jones. It meant a lot.”
Second year student and course rep Lee Clow said: “It is important that on this day everyone has the opportunity to open up and for others to show their support to anyone they know that are suffering.
“The content made is being shared across all social media and it is done in the hope that everyone can watch and listen as well as benefit from it.”