World Mental Health Day by Suzanna Hext 

Triple European Para-Dressage Gold Medallist, and World Para Swimming Silver and Bronze Medallist

The stigma surrounding the subject of mental health has vastly improved, but it’s still not an area I feel is spoken about openly enough. Many can feel it’s a slightly taboo subject, however, the honest truth is that all of us will suffer from our mental health at some point in our life for one reason or another…

’It’s ok to be upset.
It’s ok to be angry.
It’s ok to feel stuck.
It’s ok to feel confused.
It’s ok to feel lonely.
It’s ok to cry.
It’s ok not to be ok’...

Having had a life-changing accident riding a young horse in July 2012, I’d be lying if I told you I hadn’t struggled a huge amount mentally with the loss of my old life, and the feeling of losing my sense of identity. However, time, support and determination have helped me out the other side. It’s been a rocky journey, and yes, I’d have my old body back in a flash, and yes, I still have bad days, but you learn to move forward and focus on the future you have ahead of you, and everything you have to look forward to. I feel hugely lucky and extremely grateful to I love what I do now, with the people I treasure around me.

I’m generally a strong person mentally, from the point of view of knowing what I really want to achieve and putting everything into it to get there. However, this doesn’t mean I don’t struggle, as so many of us do, but we never feel we can speak about it openly.

In sport and daily life success and failure, highs and lows, ups and downs are inevitable, and that’s ok. It’s not always easy to pick ourselves up from these lows or setbacks. We get stuck in a rut and see no way out and the more we think about the problem or place we are in, the worse the outcome becomes in our head- sound familiar... I’m certainly guilty of this.

Sometimes people tend to judge how someone’s mental health is by their success in their job, sport, or manner, not really knowing what is going on behind the scene, and what that person may have to contend with on a daily basis. Nobody ever really knows everyone’s story and the journey they’ve taken to get to that stage....

I’ll put my hand up to feeling defeated, as everyone does from time to time. Life’s not always fair, and it’s about the challenges you come up against on your journey through life that shape you as a person.

My accidents taught me so much about myself and have completely changed my sense of perspective on life. I treasure and embrace every moment that bit more, if I’m not happy in life I do something about it, I’m passionate about what I do and I never ever give up! In my mind- ‘Life is precious, life’s a gift and it’s fair too short. Make the most of every opportunity that comes your way’...

These are some of my coping mechanisms I have found that help my mental health:

  • Surrounding myself with my family and friends- reaching out when I need that extra bit of support and positivity.
  • I find writing my thoughts down helps me to process them in my head- I did this for a few years after my accident and have daily diaries full of my honest thoughts. This is something I have picked up more recently again, due to the uncertainly and unknown we are facing during Covid-19.
  • Exercise- this is my freedom, both mentally and physically and something I have used as my main distraction and coping mechanism.
  • Social media breaks- I find sometimes you can get so wrapped up in posting, scrolling and comparing yourself to what someone else is doing. Having a break gives you time to focus on ‘living in the moment’ that bit more and appreciating everything you have around you. Less scrolling, more living as they say!!
  • Never be afraid to seek help from elsewhere, such as counselling, phycologist support or any form of extra help you may need. I’m happy to say that one of the best decisions I made was to have counselling after my accident, and I can definitely say it helped me to process what had happened to me and it allowed me to focus on my future.   
  • I have always found setting myself goals, helps me to identify what I want to achieve. This helps with motivation and allows you to break your ultimate aim down into bite-sized steps.
  • Using the ‘Headspace app’ either before I go to bed or when I am feeling slightly overwhelmed.

The most important element to helping your mental health is making sure you surround yourself with positive people, be kind to yourself and don’t ever feel you can’t reach out to your family and friends, everyone’s there to support you, and help you on your journey. As the quote says above- ‘It’s ok not to be ok’…