Ospreys rugby player Lloyd Ashley on importance of discussing men's mental health
Watch ITV Cymru Wales' video report by Beth Fisher
As part of 'Mental Health Awareness Week', Ospreys rugby player, Lloyd Ashley has been talking to ITV Wales' Sports Reporter, Beth Fisher about the 'importance' of talking about men's mental health and wellbeing.
In August 2020, Lloyd was appointed Welsh Rugby Players Association's lead for mental health and wellbeing, working to raise awareness and to change the stigma and approach around the subject in Wales.
"It's very important", he said.
"I think it should be important to us all. We all have mental health and it wasn't until the last couple of years that I realised that we talk about mental health and we take a backward step and think you've only got mental health if something's gone wrong or something's bad.
"Then I thought, no, we've all got mental health and physical health, why are we not speaking about it, why are we not doing more about it - especially young men, why are we not learning about it?"
Lloyd has since qualified as a mental health first aider and is now a young people's ambassador for the mental health charity 'Hafal'.
The rugby player believes that so many men are struggling with their mental health because they've "been told from a young age that big boys don't cry". He hopes that by encouraging men to talk about their emotions, with time, these stereotypes will stop.
Each year in Wales between 300 and 350 people die from suicide but men are around three times more likely to die by suicide than women.
"It's gone way too far before we've done anything about it and that's sad", he said.
"I'm not saying that by having this conversation we're going to stop suicides completely but hopefully the more we have the conversation, the more people feel that they can speak and less people get to crisis and that's the most important thing."
Lloyd is one of the biggest voices in Welsh sport in speaking out about mental health and the stigma that comes with it.
He said: "I think we're all going to have struggles. Take rugby for instance where you don't get selected, you're injured, you're worried about contracts, social media - there's so many different things going on and that's just from a rugby front.
"That's not your life outside of rugby and thinking about those things. We're all going to have struggles and it's ok to admit that and say 'yes, I am struggling with this at the moment - things aren't as good as I'd like them to be'.
"Sometimes it's good to admit it because you're doing something about it as well."
After seeing people in rugby not talking about their emotions and seeing some of his family members going from having a 'poor mental health to having a mental illness', he decided to go on a counseling course in order to try and help people.
"I thought 'wow, we ask so many closed questions and don't give people the opportunity to speak'", he said.
"Then I started asking open questions, giving people time. How many times have we all walked past with a phone in our hand and ask somebody 'are you ok' and carry on walking?
"They're not going to tell us if they're alright or not then because they know you're not giving them the time.
"I didn't realise until I started doing courses, how often we did those things and how we make people feel uncomfortable or don't make them feel safe enough to speak about their vulnerabilities."
This year's Mental Health Awareness Week theme is nature as it's known to be an 'effective way of tackling mental health problems and of protecting our wellbeing'. Lloyd believes that connecting with nature makes him "feel a lot better".
He said: "I love being out walking. We're always out and about, especially now with the twins in the house. I also love getting into the sea. I use cold water therapy a lot for physical and mental health. Those little things I do all the time make me feel a lot better."
The rugby star's message is to urge people to connect with each other.
"People are there for you whether it's using charities like Samaritans and using the helplines there or whether it's connecting to somebody you haven't spoken to in a while.
"If you don't feel comfortable to connect at first, get out, be active and get your own thoughts. Think about them and then try and connect with somebody. People want to be there for you. It's so important."
If you are in distress or need some support, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day on 116 123 or through their website.