A FOREST runner has taken on the role of champion for those with mental health problems and organised an event last Thursday (October 11) to raise awareness of the issue and promote the benefits of exercise.

“It started out as the hashtag #RunAndTalk,” said Nathan Peart from Lydney. “It’s used by English Athletics, who work with the charity MIND, and I persuaded Forest of Dean Athletics Club (FoDAC), which I’m a member of, to let me become their mental health champion.

“I wanted to put on an event, but not everyone wants to run, so that’s where we got the idea to use #WalkAndTalk too. It was an opportunity for people to come along and run or walk with like-minded people.”

The evening event, in support of World Mental Health Day on October 10, took place around Lydney Boating Lake and saw 26 people set off in two groups, one for runners and one for walkers. Hot drinks, cakes and biscuits were provided at the finish line.

Nathan said: “We asked people to fill in a sticky note describing their feelings before and after they took part. The differences were really positive, and a few people asked if it would be a regular thing. We’re considering whether we could make that happen now.

“The #RunAndTalk campaign works by having mental health champions. Back in the summer I asked FoDAC if I could take on the role and we’ve now got seven champions in total.

“I’m not medically trained at all, but I think it’s really important to highlight mental illness and the fact that it affects 1 in 4 people. It’s very common and it’s okay not to be okay. It can feel like you’re facing it on your own, but you’re not alone and running or walking with others can help. I really want to promote the benefits of physical activity to good mental health too.

“As well as the event on Thursday, two local park runs – at Five Acres and in Lydney – let me set up a stall, again with hot drinks and cakes, and with ribbons from MIND on sale. We raised a total of £247 which will go to mental health charities.

“I’d like to thank everyone at FoDAC who helped with the event and to all those involved in the park runs who let us come along. Thank you as well to everyone who supported the events.

“It was all a real success. Raising awareness of mental health issues can only be a success. To have 26 people rock up to the evening event is brilliant and people are already asking when we will do it again.”

To find out about forthcoming events, see Forest of Dean Athletic Club on Facebook.