Running 52 marathons in 52 weeks helped Adrian Thomas share his experience and tackle the stigma of mental health issues in the workplace.
Adrian Thomas, Catering Manager at the Bader International Study Centre (BISC), began his weekly marathon challenge with two goals; maintain a healthy lifestyle, and raise awareness about the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in the workplace.
Fresh from the final marathon of his 52 in 52 Challenge and on the heels of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK (May 14 to 20), Mr. Thomas and the BISC have big plans to support student and employee mental health.
Mr. Thomas lives with depression and had a mental health crisis in 2011 that led to a yearlong period when he was unable to work, which caused anxiety and hardship for him and his family.
“Fortunately, I have a very supportive wife, Michelle, and an adorable son, Edwin, and several close friends who have helped me hugely as I came out of that bad period in my life,” says Mr. Thomas.
Mr. Thomas took up running during this time, having read that it can help with symptoms of depression. He joined his local running club, The Hailsham Harriers, and set ever-increasing mileage targets to slowly increase his endurance levels until he was able to run marathons and even ultra-marathons.
When Mr. Thomas reflects on his experiences, he describes a stigma in the workplace at his previous employers regarding mental health issues and a lack of understanding. He also describes the frustration that his wife experienced because she felt she had no one she could turn to who could help her understand what he was going through.
In April 2017, Mr. Thomas entered the 52 in 52 Challenge, where competitors pledge to complete 52 official marathons in 52 weeks. His additional goal was to raise awareness of the importance of mental health and address the stigma associated with discussing mental health in the workplace.
Mr. Thomas completed the challenge in just 50 weeks by participating in marathon races across southern England in Sussex, Kent, and Surrey. He wore through six pairs of running shoes and spent roughly $6,000 (£3,500) on race fees, travel, accommodations, and gear.
Mr. Thomas launched his own charity, Different Minds, on World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10) in 2017. The charity trains volunteers in recognizing the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues to become Mental Health First Aiders.
“I firmly believe that by opening up a dialogue where it is okay to talk about our mental health, we as a society can change attitudes,” says Mr. Thomas. “Our volunteers are trained to go anywhere and say, ‘We can all suffer from depression and it’s okay to talk about it!’”
Mr. Thomas partnered with the student government at the BISC in March for an auction fundraiser to support Different Minds, and to broaden the conversation at the Castle about mental health at work and school.
Safeguarding student mental health
At the BISC, the on-site Student Services Team places a particular emphasis on promoting positive student mental health at the Castle. The team is stepping up their services this year by growing their Peer Health Educator Program (now in its second year), providing free access to two professional counsellors through ten bookable sessions every week, and by creating an environment of open dialogue year-round.
“Our Student Services team take a holistic approach to students’ health and wellness. We offer spaces for conversations and direct students to appropriate resources, such as personal counselling,” says Roxy Denniston-Stewart, Student and Enrolment Services Manager at the BISC. “Students are also provided with a space to speak up and share stories with peers. Our goal is to provide students at the BISC with the resources and tools they need to support their wellbeing in an interdependent community.”
Events to promote healthy living happen year-round at the BISC, including the BISC Mental Health Week in the fall term. The week will focus on coping with exam stress and promoting the benefits of exercise, diet, and sleep during the revision period.
To read more about Mr. Thomas’s story and the work of Different Minds, check out the Facebook page.