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Discovering the importance of exercise for mental health


April 29, 2019

If I am honest, I am not sure I remember much about 2011-12. It seems like a blurry picture on a screen I can’t quite see. You would think I would. I had just had a baby, got married, got promoted… Life was good but, on the inside, I was drowning.

For a long time, I couldn’t and wouldn’t accept that something was seriously wrong. I was exhausted, would avoid social situations at all costs, and most days when I got the train to work I was hoping for some sort of disaster to befall me so I could just stop. To be disappointed that something awful hasn’t happened is a strange feeling.

As much as I don’t remember the detail of that time, I remember the crushing feeling of failure and despair that surrounded me. I didn’t understand why everyone else seemed to have it together.

It all came to a head as I sat next to a running bath of water and couldn’t fathom up the energy to undress. I thought it would be easier to just get in the bath with my clothes on. “Actually,” I thought, “How nice. I would be warm.”The next thought that came was that I should just stay under the water. Call it fate, but my phone rang. It was my dad to say he would be round in five minutes to walk the dogs. I broke down at that moment and told him what I was feeling.

He took me to the GP; here I was, a 32 year old and being taken to the doctors by my dad. I distinctly remember a flashback to when I was about 4 years old and dad carrying me in to the doctors when I was in extreme pain with a perforated eardrum. It felt exactly the same, the pain felt unbearable.

Learning to see and feel again

Shortly after that, I was admitted to hospital to have my thyroid removed. A couple of days later, I felt like someone had opened the curtains and I could start to see, and feel things that I had not been able to for a long time. I had counselling and things moved forward. My dad would make me go out every day and do something active, however small, and I began to see the strong link between physical and mental wellbeing.

I trained as a Personal Trainer, as for me health and fitness are integral to both mental and physical wellbeing. As a HR professional and Coach, I now try to ensure individuals and organisations address this. The results being significantly improved productivity (and happiness).

Sudden and devastating loss

In 2016, I suffered the sudden and devastating loss of my dad, who sadly took his own life. My world as I knew it literally changed overnight and there were times I wasn't sure if I would make it out of this dark and very confusing place.

On that terrible morning looking for my dad, help came from the strangest places. The postman in the village who put out a call to the other post staff in the area to keep their eye out for an older man who had left the house that morning with no coat and in his slippers, the dog walkers that also helped looking for him, and the complete stranger who just hugged me and let me cry and scream in the woods where I was searching for him.

I am so sad that dad - who suffered from anxiety and possibly OCD (although never diagnosed)- was so wracked in his last weeks that something terrible was going to happen. He thought my mum would be killed or someone would break in and kill us all, there would be a terrorist attack involving the children and somehow he felt he would be held responsible. To him, his only option was to take his life.

I wish I had asked him – “Are you thinking of taking your life?”. I was so scared to do that in case I gave him that idea. I would never shy away from asking that question to anyone now.

Doing something positive for dad and for me

To say I am ok would be a lie. 11 August 2016 changed the lives of me and family forever. I miss him every day. There are days where I forget just for a second that he is gone, there are good dreams about him, nightmares, and everything in between. It has made me reevaluate my life. I do more of the things I love, with the people I love, my tolerance for BS is pretty much minimal and I have met some incredible people who have helped me out of this confusing place. I feel lucky.

I wanted to do something positive for dad and for me. The running community is where I found that something. RuntalkRun – is a group set up to support people with their physical and mental wellbeing. I got in touch with Jess and her spirit and passion is so inspiring I just knew I wanted to get involved. A free, safe space for people to come together, talk and exercise at their own pace. We now have a small group in Peterborough and there are many groups all-round the UK and the States as it continues to grow.

I am also a proud Associate at The Hoxby Collective, and have just joined the ‘Hoxby World 365’ challenge – a year long fitness campaign aiming to get the community to collectively travel the whole way around the world in 365 days whilst raising awareness and money for mental health causes.

**In the time it has taken you to read this 9 people in the world have taken their own life.**

WHO data shows that 1 person every 40 seconds takes their own life. This is just not a number I can accept. I urge everyone please do something for either your own or others mental health. Read that book, stop and play with the kids, take that long bath, go for a walk, sign up to that fitness challenge or maybe just ask that person you see “Are you Ok”?

13-19 May is Mental Health Awareness week. The theme for 2019 is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies. To find out more visit and please use the hashtag #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek to start a discussion around mental health.

Jennie Oliver is an independent HR consultant with a personal focus on wellbeing, mental health and their impact on performance.

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