Plenty of disabled people consider taking up sport, not only to improve their physical wellbeing but also to enjoy better mental health. Paralympic wheelchair basketball player and coach, Anna Jackson, has faced her own mental health issues and now helps others through coaching.
Research from UK Coaching suggests that: “Great coaches can play an important part in improving mental wellbeing and that 71% of adults who receive coaching believe it’s helped to improve their mental health and wellbeing”…
As a player and a coach with mental health issues, I understand that side, so everything I do when I’m coaching has maybe a bit of a subtle mental health message around believing in yourself; helping to boost people’s self-confidence and self-esteem, those kinds of things. And things around, not beating yourself up if you make a mistake. I think with the right coaches, you can make a massive difference to your players. I really take that responsibility seriously.
I’m 46 now, so I’ve coached for a long, long time. I’ve learnt lessons that can help people, not just on the court but in life in general. I’ve worked with players that have gone on to play at a higher level or have just started to feel better about themselves.
When I stop and look at what I’m doing from a coaching point of view, it is quite humbling sometimes.
How did sport help you?
There’s probably been a couple of patches in my life where there’s been significant issues. One was when I was really having problems with my knees and I was having to stop playing able-bodied sport. I was about 23 and sport had been my life – but there weren’t enough painkillers in the world to let me carry on playing!
I was experiencing depression. I kind of lost my identity really. But because I’d already started playing wheelchair basketball I got this, kind of, new family and, kind of, new identity. It was kind of easier to deal with because I had the support of that ‘basketball family’ and because I had that focus, it was easier to go: “Well, OK, I’m cheesed off about this but I can go training or I can go on the court and shoot basketballs”.
Can a coach, coach themselves?
I have to give myself a bit of a strict talking to sometimes when I hear myself saying something. I think about what I would say if someone said that to me?
I’m currently on a Level 2 Counselling course and it’s fascinating – because the more I learn about myself, with what I’m learning through my courses, they are kind of meeting together. So, eventually, you do become your own kind of therapist or coach don’t you?
Do you find it easier to spot the warning signs?
If my mental health is taking a bit of a blip then I’m much better now at going “OK, where has this come from? What’s set it off? What am I going to do about it?” I’ve got more tools now in my toolkit, I think, than when I first had to give up sport. I just didn’t know what to do.
I know what is likely to trigger me into having a bit of a wobble. So I kind of prepare myself better for it. But there’s always going to be things that are just going to blindside you, and with those I just have to trust that I’ve got those skills. That I can kind of deal with it and it’s not going to take me to a horrendous dark place. But actually, I can catch it earlier now so I sort of recognise my own warning signs really.
What advice would you give to someone else who’s having a ‘wobble’?
One is to kind of trust your own instinct, and if you are not feeling well, then ask for some help. Whether it’s your GP or it’s a family friend. It’s just about trusting your feelings and it doesn’t matter what the “It” is that’s caused the upset, if it’s upsetting you, it’s upsetting you. It might be something massive, it might be something little, but share that with somebody.
Sometimes, when you’ve got a physical disability, everything is kind of blamed on that. So, if you say that you are starting to struggle with your mental health, it’s “Oh well, it’s because of your disability, because you can’t do this or you can’t do that.” Actually no. You’re a human being. Yes, your disability is part of your life, but that’s not a reason to have a mental health problem. It might be part of it, but actually, life still affects us like it does everybody else.
And, sometimes you don’t get the right response from people when you open-up a little bit, but actually, that’s not your fault; that’s their problem. But there’s actually a lot of advice and a lot of amazing people out there who can help.
Support for mental health
Mind provides advice and support to empower anyone experiencing a mental health issue.
Tel: 0300 123 3393 or text: 86463
The Samaritans invite people to talk with them about anything that’s troubling them.
Tel: 116 123
Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH)
SAMH currently operates over 60 services in communities across Scotland including mental health social care support.
Tel: 0141 530 1000