'It makes me feel great': Ashley on why music and football has helped his struggle with bipolar

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, ITV News is highlighting issues or conditions often under-represented in terms of awareness as well as looking at positive and therapeutic initiatives helping people with their mental health recovery.

  • By Davina Fenton and Natalia Jorquera

Walking past the group of men playing football on a concrete pitch in east London, you'd probably think they're just having a kick about.

But aside from uniting over the "beautiful game", many of the group share both a passion for music and a history of mental health problems.

They have come together through Key Changes, an organisation that promotes positive mental health through in hospitals and the community.

Once a week they also hold a drop-in which includes activities such as an open-mic session and football.

Ashley has been using its services for many years since being referred for music therapy to help with his bipolar disorder, which he has battled for nine years.

Asked how things are for him when he experiences an episode, the 29-year-old said: "It's like having everything you want in the world to having nothing."

"When I'm on a high everything is great, no matter what scenarios or situations I get into ..everything seems to be going fine."

But when he is down "everything in the world is a hassle," Ashley said.

He added that even satisfying basic needs such as eating and sleeping is a struggle as well as getting motivated to do daily tasks.

Ashley said for many years life was unpredictable and 'scary'. Credit: ITV News

Describing his lowest point, Ashley said it "was scary" constantly having "your mind playing tricks on you."

"It continued to be scary for many years because that point kept re-occurring.

"I hadn't come to the realisation and acceptance of my condition yet - so I wasn't accepting treatment."

Ashley said things finally started to turn around for him when he was referred to Key Changes and "it just built me up so much".

Ashley has been able to explore his passion for music.

Now in addition to making use of its music services, Ashley is volunteering for the organisation - helping to coach their football group which he finds very rewarding.

Members of the football team come together every week.

"We all meet up and that's to promote healthy well-being and good mental health.

He added that it counterbalances some of the negatives associated with mental illness and some medication that can cause weight gain.

"You're taking medication, you tend to be isolated so you're not meeting up with people, you're not getting a lot of exercise," he said.

Ashley added that it's nice to be part of a group where "you don't feel they're going to judge you".

"That helps as a whole to build you up as you realise there's lots of people going through the same thing as you."

Ashley said giving back to the community makes him 'feel great'.

Ashley still receives treatment for his condition but life is more stable for him now.

"My treatment is stable now. It's been two years since I haven't been in hospital.

"Before that I was in hospital 2 to 3 times a year for the last 9,10 years," he added.

"I've just been progressing in my job, in my life, just going forward basically with my music and everything I'm doing."

Ashley also said people need to be more open when it comes to mental illness.

"Mental health comes in all different shapes and sizes and you shouldn't be ashamed of it."

"Don't be scared when you're low, you have to talk to people, let them know what you're going through cos that's the only way you're going to get help."