Helen Richardson-Walsh: "Be kind to yourself, don't judge the thoughts & emotions"

Helen Richardson-Walsh v Ned, 2015 Euros
As part of #WorldMentalHealthDay, we spoke to Helen Richardson-Walsh about the importance of England Hockey signing up to the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation and why we should all be kind to ourselves.

“With any industry, or in any walk of life, people always look to the top. Whatever you’re doing, within that area you always look to those people who are at the top of their game or at the top of the industry and if they’re role modelling those behaviours then they’re more likely to do them. It’s incredibly important that England Hockey has signed up [to the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation] because so, so many people play hockey in this country. The more we can get it filtered down to clubs, the better.

“We’ve seen it with Flyerz and disability hockey – now England Hockey are actively involved there’s been a much bigger uptake purely because of the publicity generated. If anyone wants to encourage certain behaviours then it needs to be role modelled and England Hockey are in the best position to do that. People will be looking for them to show the way and how it can be done at their clubs as well.

“I think there’s been so much good stuff happening [in relation to mental health and sport]. Athletes speaking up; campaigns being led by Mind or Heads Together; the work Prince William has done with footballers, which has been massive because of the reach it had and the demographic of young men who have been brought up to believe that they shouldn’t show emotion and shouldn’t talk about their feelings. That’s a very important demographic to be hitting with important messages around mental health and the importance of speaking about it. 

“I think we are starting to change the view of mental health and how everyone can play a role. But it’s very deep inside of us – most of us have been brought up in a way, especially in this country, where you don’t express those things. It’s very deep rooted and very unconscious for a lot of us. When I see something or a behaviour that I’m not sure about, I have to check myself and I’ve experienced an issue with mental health. There are so many times when we just say things off the cuff or we don’t necessarily support people around us because we just don’t understand what it’s like. 

“In a sporting context, coaches have a huge role in this because of the power that they hold. Governing bodies do as well and that’s why it’s so important that England Hockey have signed up so they can get their coaches on board with this, making them aware of it first and foremost and then start to try to recognise things. It’s just about caring and that’s what it comes back to. Just caring for that individual.

“I’d certainly say to those people who are struggling to speak up, find that one person who you trust and can try and have that conversation with. And there’s a message for those people who may be on the receiving end of the conversation about how incredibly important your reaction is when somebody is opening up to you. You may not know what to do but it’s just about caring for them and saying you’re there for them without judgement is all you need to do really, which I think is a key thing. 

“Trying not to judge myself and being kind to myself was probably one of the main things for me. I wasn’t kind to myself and I know a lot of people who, when they are struggling, get into a place where the voices in your head start doubting yourself, saying you’re never quite good enough and that feeling of not being enough can weight down really heavily. 

“That’s the thing that I learned, to be kind to myself and not judge the thoughts, emotions and feelings that I was having. Just let them come in and let them sit there if necessary but not judge them because that’s how the negative spiral that comes in and gets worse and worse and worse. Be kind to yourself.”