Having been an LTA Mental Health Ambassador for the past 12 months I have had the opportunity to reach out to so many people. In February of this year I spoke at the LTA all colleague meeting about my own personal experiences with mental health. The reaction was fantastic as so rarely do people speak honestly about this subject, and many jumped at the chance to ask questions about our stories and their own. It is still incredibly difficult to speak about my experiences but the reward of helping people recognise warning signs in themselves makes it all worth while. Also, it is a nice reminder of how far I have come in my own life, which makes me feel immense pride.
I was diagnosed with depression and bulimia when I was 18 but of course I had been struggling for years before that since the age of 15. It was no coincidence that my mental health started to suffer as I began to experience great success in my career as a tennis player, as I was struggling to cope with the demands and expectations of life on tour. The lowest point in my mental health was the highest point in my career, which doesn't make sense to most people as it is assumed my success would decrease as my mental health did, but the more I achieved, the more I struggled. I was representing Great Britain in Fed Cup, competing in all four Grand Slams and in the top 200 in the world at a young age and yet I felt lost, desperate and very alone.
I was fully prepared for the work I would need to put in on court, how competitive I would need to be and how playing to Grand Slam level would be the hardest thing I had ever done, but I was not prepared at all for the lifestyle of being a tennis player. Travelling for 40 weeks a year, often by yourself with what felt like permanent jet lag, competing day in day out and expected to be in peak physical and mental condition at all times really took its toll on me. The hardest part was being terrified to say anything to anyone as I would be seen as weak, not cut out for it and then my team would give up on me. The most valuable message I can bring to young players and coaches is to prepare for the challenges ahead not just as a player but as a person too and that it is ok to not be able to cope with everything thrown at you in life.
In my role as an LTA Mental Health Ambassador I was able to present at the National Coaches Conference before Wimbledon this year in front of hundreds of coaches, which has a much wider impact as they each work with hundreds of people and the message that mental health is crucial to our happiness and success. I focus on how to spot early warning signs and how to offer people around you a platform to speak but simply asking "How are you?" every once in a while. We often say it as a greeting but do really mean to get an answer? Something this simple would have at least given me the opportunity to speak, and even though a lot of the time I would have responded with "I'm fine", there might have been one occasion where a bit of honesty slipped out.
I have just finished filming a short documentary on my story in the hope that this will help others recognise early signs of mental health problems and get help sooner. The consequence of ignoring our own personal mental health as well as others around us is truly devastating which can be seen by the extraordinary statistics around mental illness and suicide.
World Mental Health Day is a fantastic opportunity to get people talking about it as we all need to at some point in our lives. One day looking after our mental health will be considered equally as important as looking after our physical health and I am immensely proud of the work I am doing with the LTA to make that happen.
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