Many disabled people have seen an improvement in their mental health through taking up sport and exercise. Not only is the physical activity good for us but so is the interaction with others. For instance, figures produced by UK Coaching suggest that 71% of adults who receive coaching believe it has helped to improve their mental health and wellbeing.

And it can help the coaches too – like it did with coach, Anna Jackson.

Playing wheelchair basketball had a positive, life-changing impact on Anna Jackson, and she is now dedicating herself to giving other people that same opportunity, whatever their ability. Anna has her own physical limitations, but this has not held her back from launching a coaching career and setting up Cheshire Phoenix Wheelchair Basketball Club in 2014. Anna also enjoyed a 10-year international career that included representing Great Britain at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games.

Anna became the 2017 Disability Coach of the Year at the UK Coaching Awards and has enjoyed a successful career in sports. However, it’s not been plain sailing for her. Like many people, Anna has struggled with her mental health for a number of years and is very open about the challenges she faced with depression and anxiety. She has qualified as a Mental Health First Aider and believes that it is vital to combat mental health in the open and help stop the stigma that many people face.

Anna spoke with Able Magazine about how coaches can support others, even beyond the sporting techniques they’re focusing on – and that crucially, it also includes being watchful of her own mental health. “I have to give myself a strict talking to at times” she said, adding: “I think ‘What would I say to someone if they came to me and said that?’ I’m much better now at looking at where this has come from and what’s set it off and ‘What am I going to do about it?’ I’ve now got more tools in my kit.”

Anna is passionate about speaking up and sharing mental health issues saying: “Trust your own instincts and if you’re not feeling right, then ask for some help from your GP or family and friends. Don’t feel silly about not feeling right. It’s about trusting your feelings. 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 or it might be something little – but share that with somebody you trust.”

As a wheelchair user herself, Anna is also able to share specific views regarding how disabled people might look at their situation, concluding: “Sometimes when you have a physical disability everything can get blamed on that. But actually, no, you’re a human being and yes your disability is part of your life but your disability is not a ‘reason’ to (necessarily) have a mental health problem. It might be a factor but actually life still affects us the same as it affects everybody else.

It’s about having the confidence to say something, even though you may have to show that you’re a little bit vulnerable – and people can be afraid of that. Sometimes you don’t get a good response from the people you might open up to but actually, that’s not your fault, it’s their problem. But there’s a lot of help and a lot of people out there who can help.”


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