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  1. ITV Report

Olympic rower opens up about mental health battle

  • As part of Mental Health Awareness Week and ITV's launch of a new mental wellness campaign, Britain Get Talking, ITV Meridian has been speaking to Hampshire rower James Foad as he opens up about his own mental health.

James Foad was at the top of his sport, holding four World Silver Medals and a Bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympics. However 6 months before the Rio Olympics, he developed major back problems and needed surgery. His career suddenly came to an end, sending him spiralling into depression.

"I didn't really want to speak to anyone I didn't want to be around anyone. I'd find myself leaving to go to work early so I'd not have to speak to anyone in the morning. I spent less time at home."

"One of the things I struggle with post-rowing is a lot of people see me as James the Olympian or James the Rower. I'm at that stage now where I'm trying to find out who I am and what meaning I've got, and what I'm looking to achieve."

James Foad is not alone. More and more sports people are facing problems with anxiety and low self worth.

James grew up rowing on the River Itchen at Southampton Credit: ITV news

Elite sports people face a unique set of pressures:

  • Pressures to win
  • To meet expectations from coaches and fans
  • The threat of being dropped
  • Fear of injury
  • Retirement brings problems with loss of routine, low self-esteem and coping with transition to normal life

James is having therapy and says he still takes one day at a time.

"It's a really slow process. You can't just go to the GP and fix it, like a broken arm or leg and cough or cold. It does hang around but as long as I feel I'm trying to look for the right help I feel like I'm making a step everyday. I don't want other athletes to finish their careers and the same thing happen to them. Even if there is just a little bit of awareness there."

  • Watch Mary Stanley's report below

UK Sport and the English Institute of Sport have put together a strategy to help elite sportspeople with mental health. This includes education to raise awareness of mental health and the need to help each other, the provision of professional help and communication to end the stigma around mental health.

  • Craig Ranson, Director of Athlete Health for the English Institute of Sport

James is now setting himself new goals, hoping to become a personal trainer and mental health first aider to help others overcome the same problems he's had to face.

Find out more about ITV's Britain Get Talking mental wellness campaign here.