Changing MENtality

Sport, Masculinity and Mental Health

November 19, 2020 Season 1 Episode 2
Changing MENtality
Sport, Masculinity and Mental Health
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode Billy chats mental health, masculinity and sport with guest speaker (and brother) Charlie Newhall, an ex club captain for the University of Sheffield's Rugby team and recent graduate. They'll discuss some of the benefits of sport to wellbeing, some of the issues surrounding masculinity in sport and share some of their own experiences at university.

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If you were distressed by any of the content in this episode or feel you need extra support, please find  some further resources below:

  • Student Space–Online, one-stop shop’ for students in England and Wales who want to find help for their mental health or well-being.
  • Student Minds website- Information about different support services available, including how to find them and what to expect when using them for the first time.
  • Your GP Service- can refer to specialist support and services.
  • University Student Support Services e.g. counselling, mental health advisers, student advice centre, students’ union.
  • Samaritans-phone 116 123, email [email protected]
  • HOPELine UK-phone 0800 068 41 41: confidential service specifically for young people (under 35). They can offer crisis support for someone who is experiencing thoughts or feelings of suicide, as well as providing information and advice for those concerned about someone else.
  • Papyrus: email [email protected]
  • Students Against Depression- The Students Against Depression website has lots of information about tackling depression and low mood, including self -help resources and workbooks for students to work through to start taking steps towards tackling low mood.
  • NHS 111-Non-emergency line run by the NHS.
  • 999-for an emergency situation.
Billy:

Hello and welcome to this episode of the change in mentality podcast. This is a podcast run by male university students and supported by the charity student minds that aims at discussing and tackling some of the topics that surround men's mental health. I'm Billy and I'm a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester studying an MSc in science communication. On this episode, our guest speaker is Johnny Newhall, a recent graduate from the University of Sheffield and ex club captain for the university's first rugby team, and also my brother. Today, we're going to be chatting about mental health and sport and exploring some of the interactions between mental health and masculinity. An important note before we start, neither me or Charlie are counsellors or mental health professionals. Rather, we're both male university students who've experienced what it's like to be a man at university and some of the challenges that have come along with it. So let's get into it. So welcome to the podcast Charlie, do you want to tell us a bit about yourself? What did you study at university? And what kind of stuff did you get involved in while you were there?

Charlie Newhall:

Yeah, of course. So I'm, I'm 20 years old. And I've just graduated from the University of Sheffield, where I studied mechanical engineering with biomechanics. And I was there for four years. And during my time there, my main sort of extracurricular activity, I suppose you'd call it is is was rugby, I was part of the Rugby Club, and I held various committee positions, including club captain and welfare and inclusion secretary. And I was also the charity and volunteering coordinator for sports, Sheffield. So that basically involved just being the guy who was organising a lot of the outreach, and fundraising efforts for the for the sports clubs at university.

Billy:

Obviously, I know that long list of posts already as I mentioned, you are my brother. So today, we're going to be talking a bit about sport. I'm not a sporty person in the slightest. I used to do rugby for a few years, and give that up very quickly. But you on the other hand, as you said, You've done a lot of society with sports. So yeah, that's what we're gonna be talking about. So my first question for you is what we've seen a lot recently is mental health, and specifically men's mental health. It's been getting quite a lot of attention in media. Do you feel like it's something that you saw at uni?

Charlie Newhall:

Ah, yeah, no, definitely, I think it's it is really current topic. And it's something that people seem to be really enthusiastic to rally around, especially in recent years, conversation just seems to be getting bigger and bigger, which is really good. I think a lot of it's come from the top with sports people beginning to speak out and talk about their own experiences. And it sort of has a trickle down effect in terms of what I saw at university. I mean, I'm sure you saw it Leeds as well. And it's pretty much ubiquitous across the country now that every Rugby Club, and most sports teams across the country do a Movember every November, which is a while you guys can't see it behind the behind the screen. But I'm sportng a filthy moustache at the minute raising money for the Movember charity, which there seems to be growing and growing again, every year, there is loads of money for men's mental health, as well as other men's health issues. And that's, you know, that's what that's been a really good way to sort of start the conversation. And I think for a lot of people, the Movember campaign is one of the first ways they sort of engage with campaigning for men's mental health and raising awareness and that kind of thing. I don't know whether you'd agree with that. Whether it was similar Leeds.

Billy:

Yeah, definitely. I mean, this is just so like a correlation. I've noticed a lot of like, Guys who do sport tend to do Movember. Yeah. I feel like a lot of rugby guys football guys. And yeah, it's a nice change to see actually, with like this huge cohort of people suddenly going on for campaigning and raising money for men's mental health men at the top of sport coming in, and I'm speaking out a lot. I recently watched Freddie Flintoff, he did a documentary about his struggle with an eating disorder, which is something It's so inspiring to see, I think these like big sports figures, because in a lot of sports men are depicted as these very masculine figures, that they're very strong. Yeah, he talks a lot in it. And I really recommend watching it. He talks a lot about this kind of front he puts up but yeah, it's Yeah, really nice to kind of see those those things coming out.

Charlie Newhall:

I mean, as I say, that is such a trickle down effect, because people do take notice. And people do listen to what elite sports people have to say. I mean, there's a reason that they're role models. And they're just sort of starting to set a different sort of role model to follow in terms of promoting positive mental health and speaking out and that kind of thing. And it is really, really important that elite sports people to continue to do that if we just sort of bounced back to talking about what was going on at uni for me and how I sort of saw men's mental health in gaining attention. So Sarah Morse, who was the sports officer in my third year at university set up a campaign called bro vembur, which is a little bit of a ripoff. But basically centred,

Billy:

definitely some copyright issues.

Charlie Newhall:

I think there might be but all for a good cause it basically sort of, rather than being a charity, like Movember is, is a sort of month long campaign centred around men's mental health. We put on loads of workshops about managing mental health, especially to do with sport. And I myself sat on a panel a bit like this one discussing toxic masculinity, and its role in sport and its role in sort of mental health and well being. And so that was a really positive thing that's come in Sheffield, really going beyond sort of the fundraising actually putting on events to actively promote positive men's mental health and raising the conversation and talking about difficult subjects like masculinity, especially so at the time I was the club captain of the rugby team, stereotypically, you probably can find a much more toxic masculinity personified, just as in terms of a concept, having me going sitting on a just to own not toxic masculinity personified just to pick that up already. But you know, having people at that frame, you know, rugby, the rugby team in the hockey teams, alongside academic University psychology, PhD students, sociology, PhD students, that alongside us all having a big conversation about toxic masculinity, there was a researcher on there, who done her PhD, she spent three years following a semi professional rugby club in Sheffield, documenting their behaviours, and their sort of relationship with masculinity, and how that sort of tied in with mental health and that kind of thing she was incredible to talk to, it's nice to see

Billy:

the these things coming off social media as well, when it comes to like men's Men's Health Day. And Movember, a lot of it takes place online, but it's so nice to see this change of people in sport, getting very involved in a very visible way, and taking it to university campuses, and directly to men that it could ultimately benefit

Charlie Newhall:

100%, I think so much of this is student driven, I think as a generation, we're very much activists. And as much as we'd like maybe universities to provide more than they're doing a lot of universities do provide really good mental health support. But that sort of proactive approach really does come from the students. And that's something I've massively notice is that the student body as a whole, especially sports clubs, have been really good at pushing this mental health and this men's mental health conversation to the forefront of people's minds and really campaigning heavily to, to get that to the top of the conversation. And I mean, that's something that we did with with with the rugby team, in my third year, the committee that I was on, and we really decided that that was going to say that we focused on from the offset creating an atmosphere within the club, there was going to be really positive for everybody in there. So none of that classically shaped toxic masculinity, really making sure that again, from the top down, it's like, like I said before, from the committee with from the offset, we said, you know, we need to make sure that we're being as inclusive and as welcoming as possible to make sure that everyone in our club feels welcome. And the club can be a positive place to come play rugby, and talk to friends and really exercise those things, which are really good for your mental health. So I think and so many of the clubs at university did that. And it's really, really positive to see so many clubs, ensuring that, that what they can be is excellent places to benefit your your mental health. And yeah, I think that's excellent.

Billy:

Yes, I think it's a great place as well to find large groups of men in a very comfortable setting to be able to address an issue like mental health, having you know, that group that people are very cofident in with people that they can maybe talk to more comfortably than a stranger, and then helping them to be proactive, you know, talking to them about what services they want, what things they want, maybe what stuff they're struggling with. I think sports and sports teams are proven for a lot of people, a great, great support net, and a great place to start with. If you are struggling a great place to start with looking for some support.

Charlie Newhall:

Yeah,

Billy:

I don't like a similar thing. What you know, what do you think sport can offer to men in regards to their like mental health and well being,

Charlie Newhall:

for me is, is massive, it's probably the single biggest factor in my life surrounding my well being. I can't speak for everybody, but from personal experience as an outlet for for myself, it is just unmatched, you get the chance to see my mates. Obviously, as a rugby player. It's a team sport. So

Billy:

when I go to training, when I go to a match, I get to see my friends, I get that sort of release of aggression and frustration. I mean, you get that burst of endorphins after doing something after doing any sort of exercise. Okay, and it's like a double whammy almost you get the benefits from the endorphins and actually getting out and doing some exercise. And then if you're doing a team sport as well, you get the added benefit of you know, socialising with a group of people making some really good friends. And I hate to use the word again, but another support network around you, which I mean it must be so valuable coming to uni maybe in first year and finding a group with shared interests and shared experiences within sport

Charlie Newhall:

100% I think that was the great thing about joining the Rugby Club and joining any sports clubs as a first year at university. There's so much anxiety and stress around finding them Right friends, and are you going to fit in, you're going to find people that you like and instantly for me, and a load of my friends, you don't turn up to rugby training. And you find this group of people who, as you say, common interests, and really get on with all of them. And it's just such a relief to find people so easily that are so accepted and so well matched with you. And as you say, I know, overused phrase, but it is a support network. And it's a support network of people who are on the complete same wavelength as you are. And you can go to rugby training, or hockey training, network training, trampoline, and whatever sport it is, you can go there in the first week of university. And you can meet people who are going to be welcoming and accepting and share a common interest with you. But I don't think there's really many other things which offer that.

Billy:

Yeah, it's definitely something I do wish looking back on it now as a postgraduate and fourth year. Coming to Union first year, it is something I do wish I maybe got involved with a little bit more. I said, I've never, I've never been one for sport. I'm not much of a team player when it comes to stuff like rugby and football, and I lacked the motivation to do a would you call it an individual sport?

Charlie Newhall:

Yeah, yeah. And individual sport. Yeah. service for individual sport.

Billy:

Do you think the men maybe face extra pressures in regards to mental health and their well being in general, because there are men, a lot of stuff we've seen recently is about destigmatising mental health for men and some of the things and associations that come along with it. So from a kind of sports perspective, what do you think about that? Well,

Charlie Newhall:

from what general perspective, I think there is, of course, that sort of traditional role of like, what it means to be a man, you know, the traditional role of being the breadwinner, sort of steely, and emotionally impenetrable, but old fashioned view of what a man should be wish, you know, I think you have to recognise that, as a society that was ingrained for hundreds and hundreds of years before this. And it's only been the last sort of 50 or so years, people have begun to recognise that actually, maybe that's not the best way for things to happen. It's not the best way for things to be. And so it's still in terms of like social history. So relatively new for this challenging of you know, what it means to be a man and masculinity. And so I think there is that there is still that pressure, although so much work has been done to de stigmatise, as you say, there is still so much pressure to be that strong man who doesn't struggle with anything and just gets on with it. And that combined with you know, the classic British steely attitude where you can just carry on kind of thing. So I think that is tough and and there is that sort of ingrained idea to sort of boss or any issues, and just get on with it because you're a bloke, and that's what you're supposed to do. And so much good work has been done to destigmatise, but it is definitely still there. And and in sport, I think it's definitely still present. I mean, as much as I talk really, really highly of the rugby team at Sheffield, there's many many clubs and sports around the country where that's it's not quite as inclusive and accepting there is still that toxic masculinity,

Billy:

that balance isn't it's there's that great support network that we spoke about earlier. And then there are also you know, some more deeper challenges come along with it with a unique culture, you know, you've got the party binge drinking lifestyle, which a lot of students are definitely used to and gravitate towards. I'm smiling because this does not apply to me in the slightest. I probably know me indulge in that kind of uni lifestyle. But yeah, though. Yeah, it's really interesting point. It's, I think it is something hard for students to navigate coming to uni, some things, you know, maybe their personal struggles, coming into a very masculine context, and then having those stigmas and those attitudes that they've grown up with, around what it is like to be a man, and then maybe finding it harder when it comes to talking about your mental health and well being to kind of communicate that within those circles.

Charlie Newhall:

Yeah. And I think I think we need like, it's so much to do with your upbringing and your people around you when you're growing up. Because I think we were very lucky in our family to be brought up in a way that we probably don't feel those, those pressures of masculinity and being a man in a way that a lot of people probably do. And I think it's important to recognise that, you know, until everybody is educated and everything is completely destigmatize, that's still going to exist for quite a long time. It's not going to disappear. Within two or three years from a few mental health campaigns, you know, it's going to take a long time to, to completely de stigmatise that because it is so ingrained in me though, our parents and their grandparents and it's a generational thing.

Billy:

Yeah. Do you think that I'm looking after mental health and well being is a skill, maybe kind of like something in like a sport that you can be taught?

Charlie Newhall:

I think it's it's a skill in as much as you know, looking after your physical health is a skill think about playing rugby, you know, what not to do to avoid breaking a bone or hitting your head or you know, you know, what not to do to catch COVID you know, you got to wash your hands and you got to stay inside and wear a mask and all that kind of thing. And you're taught about it, you're taught how to best protect your, your mental health, don't go around licking bin lids, because you know, it's going to make you ill, but, you know, sometimes you can't sometimes you can't avoid it, and you do get ill anyway. Or you break a bone or whenever you have an accident, but having the knowledge reduces the chance of getting out. And in the same way, I guess it's kind of similar with mental health. So you can be taught the skills, like not bottling up your emotions, and being taught how to deal with your anxieties and manage stress, then you can massively improve your chances of having good mental health.

Billy:

Yeah, that's a very good point. Well, it's just something I find interesting, looking back at coming to uni in first year, and this is completely outside of a sports context. But in hindsight, being able to look after my own mental health and well being is something I'll always think of as like a skill that I learned through uni, I'm, you know, at a place now, where I'm very good at being able to, like manage my anxieties, my mental health, but that's come from a vigorous and vigorous trial and error process. So I yeah, I just I'm very interested to know if it's something that we should be maybe being taught earlier, something that we should be proactively doing in the same way you might train for, I don't know, train, go to like a rugby training session to get better at rugby, training yourself, and opening up these opportunities to allow yourself to be better equipped to deal with your well being.

Charlie Newhall:

Oh, I mean, 100%. So I mean, what you just described, that is the equivalent of running out onto a rugby pitch with a bunch of 120 kilogramme blokes having no idea how to play rugby, you're going to get absolutely battered, and eventually you might figure out how to how to play and how to get through it. But it's not the best way to do it. As you say, if you take a proactive approach, and when you train yourself in rugby, or in managing your mental health, then it's a much, much better experience. I'm sure you probably agree or rather, would you agree that it would have been much better if you've not had to learn on the go if you'd been taught how to deal with it beforehand?

Billy:

Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, hindsight is 2020. Yeah, it's Yeah, it's I mean, it's a difficult question. I'm not sure there's an answer to it. But it is an interesting, interesting way to kind of frame thinking about mental health, especially in this discussions to have fought. So yeah. Is there anything else you wanted to add to this discussion about sport and mental health, anything that you saw at uni, which you thought was a really good thing in regards to mental mental health?

Charlie Newhall:

Well, let me think so, I mean, I could talk for days and days about how good the Sheffield University Rugby Club was just in terms of the changes that were made. When we started in my first year, it was more towards that classic traditional stereotype of a rugby club, which is not a good place for fostering positive mental health in an inclusive atmosphere. And it's not a good support network. And having that that change in just like two years, which just came from a sort of collective effort from the whole club, showed really how quickly something can go from the classic rugby stereotype to a really, really positive support network. And that's just grown and grown and grown in the essence, I you know, since I've been gone, it continues to be to be growing. And it just shows all it takes is one person or one group of people to actually say we don't like how this is going, or we think we should talk about this. It just takes one group of people. And actually, you tend to find that, that people who didn't speak up, actually, we're waiting for somebody to, or waiting for somebody to make the change, because nobody is going to campaign against positive mental health and no one's going to campaign against mental health, especially in sports teams. Everyone's fighting for the same thing. And so, really, I think I'm personally a big champion of if you have good mental health yourself. And if you're in a position, to be able to do something like that, then be the example that's going to help your friendship group and your support network, be a positive one, make your friendship open and accepting by you know, making yourself vulnerable and making people feel like they can also make themselves vulnerable. And speak about things which making them an easy be the one to invite people for coffee or to ask if they're okay. And don't just sit back and be complacent in your mental health being okay, be proactive and be that change that you you know, or be that person setting the example. Again, it goes back to that sort of top down thing you know, all it takes is for one person to speak out and say something and change something. And the whole thing just unravels and it's just a bit of a domino effect.

Billy:

Fantastic. So my final question for you is do you have any top tips for looking at yourself at uni? What kind of practice things did you do when you're at uni to look after your own well being or just anything that you think is useful for students,

Charlie Newhall:

join a sports team or a club or activity not to be sports team. It could be an activity it could be sewing club for that matters, but find a group of friends or group of people you have a common interest with and do it with them and stick with it. If you don't like it. Find a new one at Sheffield alone. I think there's something like 56 different clubs, sports, there's over 100 different sports outside of club sport. There's 1000s of different activities. You can do, thousands of different clubs, there's going to be one out there. For everybody, it's such a perfect way to get yourself settled, find a group of friends, and just releases so many of those early anxieties that you have about joining University. I always found it really good to keep busy, find ways to give back. So working on committees or doing charity and volunteering work. Again, let me say going back to the drinking culture and the sort of binge drinking culture University, if you find is affecting your mental health, then don't just go along with it. For the sake of it. I've known people who have been really affected by drinking, and that sort of peer pressure to engage in that university. And it can be really negative some people's mental health. And it's important to recognise that that needs to be something that needs to be cut out. If it is negatively affecting you don't continue going out binge drinking, if you're feeling rubbish, for days and days afterwards. It's just it's just not worth it. And you know, there is no right or wrong way to do University. And there's going to be really tough moments. There's always everyone's going to mess up at some point. So don't beat yourself up. And if it's rubbish, you can have a cry and call your mom and eat a bucket of ice cream. And that's okay.

Billy:

I do actually recall in first year doing exactly that to you.

Charlie Newhall:

Yeah, no, Yeah, you did. Yeah.

Billy:

Yeah, I was having a tough time when I first came to you there and I cried on the phone, too. And, yes, I did go back and eat some ice cream. I remember it fondly. It's exactly what you said University is a fantastic opportunity, especially looking at societies and sports teams. And it links very well to what My top tip was going to be. If you are feeling overwhelmed. Just don't be afraid to try something new. There's all these opportunities out there. We've done this episode on talking a lot about sport. But I'm not a sporty person. What I've taken out recently is embroidery, which to me is a sport. It's a way of me practising a new skill, clocking out all the stresses of university and just trying something new to kind of try and clock off at the end of the day. So yeah, just try something new. And just see how it goes. You got nothing to lose by trying something new. And that is my top tip.

Charlie Newhall:

I just have to put a warning there as well that embroidery can be dangerous. And injuries are possible. As Billy found out.

Billy:

I did injure myself last week embroidering. I get myself a repetitive strain injury. So although it's not a sport, you can get sport injuries from i . W

Charlie Newhall:

career threatening injury that

Billy:

exactly right. Well, Charlie, thank you so much for joining us this week, you've given some great insights. And yeah, thank you very much.

Charlie Newhall:

Thank you very much for having me on bill.

Billy:

Thanks for listening. This has been the change in mentality podcast creative support from Student Minds and funding from comic relief. If after today's episode you would like to seek further help for managing and dealing with your own or friends mental well being. Here's a few places to go. The website student space org.uk offers a great range of resources on mental health and wellbeing. Also students against depression.org and student minds website under the fund support. For more immediate support you can call the Samaritans on 116123 or hopeline. UK on oh 800 oh six 841 41 which is a confidential service specifically for young people that can offer you support and crisis. Finally, check out some of the services provided to you via University such as counselling, mental health advisors, and student advice centres. Thank you again for listening. I hope to see you again on the podcast.

Unknown:

Bye