MindCycle Events: Using Sport to Smash the Stigma of Mental Illness in the Workplace

Mental ill-health is one of the greatest challenges we face with over 1 billion people globally experiencing anxiety and depression set to be largest contributor to the global disease burden by 2030. Stigma in respect of mental ill-health is a problem that businesses, the government and a whole host of stakeholders are keen to address.

The City Mental Health Alliance, the “This is me” campaign and the Time To Change pledge are all examples of initiatives designed to help do this. However, there is much work still do do with 50% of people still feeling that they would not feel comfortable talking about a mental ill-health condition.

Competitive cyclist and Bipolar Disorder sufferer, Rob Stephenson, has launched Inside-Out, a social enterprise designed to help smash stigma in the workplace by encouraging more executives to share their story via a published list.  See www.inside-out.org for more detail.

The MindCycle Tour was an awareness-raising campaign and charity fundraising initiative themed around the Tour de France, from 7-29 July 2018 with Rob riding the whole Tour de France on a static trainer.  The MindCycle visited 10 different workplaces in July with people joining Rob on the bikes. The event was successful because of the diverse range of people who participated and had meaningful conversations about mental health.

Why sport is an important platform for stimulating conversation mental health?

Lessons from the elite athlete

The elite athlete knows all about stress and recovery.  She knows that to improve fitness she must provide a training stimulus that causes the body to adapt and become stronger, fitter or faster.  However, she also knows that this adaptation only occurs when she allows the body to recover. She knows that without these recovery periods then she will experience overtraining syndrome, more commonly known as burnout. She balances stress with recovery.

In the workplace we also experience a great deal of stress.  In isolation, this is not a problem. In fact, it is a good thing - we need stress to ‘activate’ the mind and body to perform - to hit a deadline; to stand up and deliver a keynote; to save a life..  

“The problem is not that we are overstressed but that we are under-recovered.”

In the modern workplace we go from deadline to deadline and deal to deal with little pause. We do this in a world where the lines between work and home are blurred and where we are more accessible to work then we have ever been.  The world that we operate in is changing faster than ever, yet we are taking less time for ourselves and we are burning out.. We do not allow ourselves to recover enough from the stresses that work throws at us.

This is a problem both in terms of our physical and mental health. We can learn a lot from the elite athlete in terms of how to balance stress with moments recovery.

The link between mental and physical health

In Western society we tend to view our mental and physical health as separate things.  In reality we cannot have one without the other. We also tend to view our mental health as binary:  we are either mentally well or mentally ill (the latter usually accompanied by a diagnosis). Whereas with our physical health, we recognise that we are on a continuum, out position on which fluctuates. Our mental health is no different.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as: "a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."

As someone who experiences both the depression and mania that comes with bipolar disorder, I can testify that exercise helps me with both extremes.  There are some interesting studies coming out like this one which demonstrate the positive effects of exercise on brain function.

If we can use the sporting field to have conversations about mental health we can highlight these connections

Riding side by side

There is something non-threatening about 2 people facing forward, having a conversation. Mental Health First Aid teaches this in their courses. It is why we can also get meaningful conversation from our children in the car on the way home from school.

During the MindCycle Tour in July 2018 we found that riding side-by-side on the bikes provides this safe forum to have conversations about mental health.  There was something very human about it. This film from our sponsor host, Deloitte, demonstrates the essence of this perfectly.

MindCycle Events

Evolving from the initiative in July, MindCycle Events are bespoke indoor cycling events designed for businesses who are looking to stimulate conversation about mental health on the workplace via a fun, inclusive challenge.

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One of the most proud moments from the MindCycle Tour in July is captured by this image. A great bunch of guys were having a go at the cycling challenge. By the end of it we were all having a very human conversation about mental health.  These guys may or may not have turned up at a regular mental health event but the beauty of the MindCycle was that it attracted a group of people who may not traditionally be the type that open up.  Suicide is the biggest killer of young man in the UK and we must find ways of reaching this group.

Conclusions

Sport is a fantastic medium for us to use to smash the stigma of mental ill-health in the workplace.  It can attract some of those people who are vulnerable to suicide and can provide a forum conducive to opening up.

It can also lead the discussion into the realms of rest, recovery and recharge which are all things we can do much better.

Rob Stephenson is the Founder of MindCycle Events and can be contacted at rob@inside-out.org or 07595 372 815.