Mental health champions

England Athletics #RunAndTalk programme aims to have a mental health champion in every England Athletics affiliated club so that people experiencing mental health problems can access the benefits of running in a supported way. Southampton Athletics Club have established two mental health champions.  We want to help reduce the stigma that is associated with poor mental health and help people realise the benefits of healthy lifestyle.

The mental health champions aim to:

  • Promote mental wellbeing through running by supporting the aims of #RunAndTalk
  • Work with the club to support its members to improve their mental health through running.
  • Support new people who are experiencing mental health problems to start running, get back into running, or continue running. Take a look at our mental health support page to find additional information.

Our champions are not able to provide individual or emergency support for people experiencing mental health problems or in crisis. Similarly, unless they are qualified to do so the champions won’t provide leadership or coaching advice. They work with the UKA qualified leaders and coaches at their club to help people to run safely and meet their goals.

More on mental health champions can be found on the England Athletics website.

Our club mental health champions come with a wealth of lived experience of mental health issues.  Read more about them here:

Gemma Barry
The love of sport – training, competing & socialising – in running, swimming and cycling lies at the heart of Gemma.  Ever since a young age sport has helped her navigate through life’s challenges, build resilience and bounce back with positivity every time.  It has given her confidence & purpose.  In the times of lockdown across 2020 and 2021 she has found more comfort than ever before from sport.  In the summer of 2020, she set herself the challenge of riding 100 miles to raise money for the Brain Tumour Charity in memory of her Dad who died suddenly in March.  The comfort the bike brought her, in addition to running, offered her a sense of escape, freedom and the space to deal with grief.  Without this challenge & positive task to focus on her mental health & ability to support her family would have been very different.  The true connection, motivation and passion for sport is something she feels so lucky to have and is a strong believer it can help you deal with any of the hurdle’s life brings.  

A picture of Gemma Barry running

Rob Shenton
Rob served in the military for 25 years until he was medically discharged with depression and PTSD in 2016.  While his father was fighting cancer, Rob started running ultra-marathons.  He set himself a challenge of running what are reputed to be the toughest, highest and coldest foot races in the world.   The battle with mental illness has been one big constant struggle for Rob.  However, throughout all this Rob continued on his running challenge.  In 2011 Rob went and completed the Marathon des Sables, in 2013 he added the Everest Marathon and he finish in April 2018 quite literally on top of the world with the North Pole Marathon.  

Rob is a high functioning depressive who has used what he has learnt from running in the extremes to help him cope with his mental illness.  He tries to apply the same basic principles of preparing for a tough running event as he does to managing his life. After years of trial and error, counselling and hard work Rob developed a rough set of guidelines that helped improve his mental fitness. This was put to the test in August 2020 when Rob had a major cycling accident, breaking seven vertebrae in his back and neck. Running has given Rob so much and he wants to pass on these lessons.  

Rob completing the North Pole marathon