My name is Oli Jones and I am a Mental Health Ambassador for British Tennis. As an ambassador for the LTA I have been very lucky to have raised awareness for Mental Health issues on several occasions.
Alongside our other Mental Health Ambassador, Naomi Cavaday, we presented our own personal stories to all of the British tennis colleagues earlier on this year at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton. It was also the first opportunity for us to get some key messages across to the LTA staff including the importance of creating a platform for people to speak freely and comfortably about mental health problems with no stigma attached. Another key message that we were purveying was to use this platform to share our own personal battles with poor mental health.
I have also been very fortunate to be a speaker at the LTA National Tennis Coach Conference in July at the National Tennis Centre which is the LTA's flagship annual Coach Education event. The conference lasts over two days and was absolutely superb with over 300 tennis coaches attending and some fantastic keynote speakers including Leon Smith, the British Davis Cup Captain. Our mental health workshop in which we again, shared our stories proved to be very popular and we received some great, positive feedback.
I take my role as MH ambassador very seriously as I love tennis, I am a tennis coach and I have played the game since I was 10. I am trying my very hardest to raise awareness about mental health issues and illnesses to try and break down the stigma that still exists surrounding mental health. It is very much OK to talk about mental health problems and British Tennis are here to listen.
I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2012 but the truth is that I had been suffering from crippling mental health symptoms since my early 20s. I am now 34 years old. Initially my symptoms were bearable and I could muddle through everyday life. Throughout my 20s the symptoms of depression became more and more intense and much more frequent. I had very little energy, motivation, enjoyment, slept a lot and towards the end of my 20s I started to develop suicidal feelings and thoughts. I also had the odd manic phase which is almost the exact opposite of depression. I would have huge amounts of energy. I would be full of ideas, creativity and would hardly have any sleep and my behaviour became more and more erratic usually resulting in a big crash into depression. Since 2012 I have been treated with various medications but up until 18 months ago they had not really worked ultimately leading to me wanting to kill myself yet again. I was very close to acting on the suicidal thoughts and the one thing stopping me was the thought of my two children growing up without a father. When I was 18 months old, my father committed suicide so I know fully well what it is like to grow up without a parent.
Mental health is such an important issue to tackle because there is still a taboo and stigma attached to mental health. One in four people will suffer from a mental health issue this year and suicide is now the biggest killer of young men in this country. Both are shocking statistics and need addressing immediately. I have been fortunate to be involved in raising awareness for the last two WMHDs but this year has a different feel. The media attention surrounding mental health is more widespread than ever, key individuals in the public eye are starting to talk openly about their own mental health issues and conversations surrounding mental health really are starting to take place and break down the stigma attached. There seems to be some serious momentum in the awareness raising of mental health issues and I really hope that one day, it will be given parity with the treatment and investment that physical illnesses receive.