Swimmer backs mental health battle

Sport can be the key to youngsters feeling good, says former Olympian

Olympic star Michael Jamieson vists a surf session at The Wave Project on Fistral Beach. Picture: Getty Images.
Olympic star Michael Jamieson vists a surf session at The Wave Project on Fistral Beach. Picture: Getty Images.

Former Olympic swimmer Michael Jamieson believes Britain has turned a corner in terms of how it deals with mental health issues and thinks sport can be the key to helping even more youngsters feel good about themselves.

The 31-year-old Scot retired from competitive swimming in 2016 after a career that saw the 200 metres breaststroke specialist win silver medals at the 2012 Games in London and the 2010 and 2014 Commonwealths.

But he also experienced several injuries because of over-training, including an alarming episode in 2014 when his heart had to be restarted, which led to bouts of depression – an injury that was far harder to diagnose and treat than his sore shoulder or more recent ankle problems.

Now running his own swimming academy and working as a coach in London, Jamieson has also become an ambassador for Laureus, a global sports charity.

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It was in that capacity he and double Olympic cycling champion Victoria Pendleton, a fellow Laureus ambassador, found themselves in Cornwall on Saturday for a day in the water with the world’s first ‘surf therapy’ programme, the Wave Project.

Backed by Laureus, the scheme has helped more than 2,000 youngsters to feel less anxious and more positive, trained more than 2,500 volunteers to become surf mentors and spread to 12 locations around the British Isles.

Jamieson, who admitted he practised his surfing especially for this visit during a recent holiday in Indonesia, said: “I think we’re going through a societal transition on how we think and talk about mental health.

“We’re starting to realise it’s as serious as any injury or illness but it can be treated. We have the tools and expertise to do it, you just need a framework and that was what was missing in the past.

“That’s been changing over the last five years or so and we’re now seeing these frameworks popping up in schools, universities and workplaces.

“We are going through a pretty accelerated process of realising there is a bit of a crisis out there but there’s been a strong reaction to it and mental health has become a lot more visible now.”

Since becoming a Laureus ambassador at the start of 2018, Jamieson has also visited a community boxing project in central London and come to realise just how effective sport is at “influencing positive behaviour” and helping youngsters “with a range of complex issues”.

Pendleton, who also talked publicly about her battle with depression, agreed.

She said: “When you combine sport with the mentoring and mental health support these young people receive, you can really transform lives for the better.”