Abby Cook (19), from Grangemouth, struggled with anxiety in her early teens after a condition – known as Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) – which caused her joints to easily dislocate causing a lot of pain, worsened and meant she required to use a wheelchair.
She believes sport saved her life and is now encouraging others who experience poor mental health to discover sporting activities which help build up physical and mental strength.
This week Abby teamed up with the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) to launch a new initiative to use the power of sport to help people manage their mental health and well being.
She said: “I was a competitive swimmer up until the age of 13 and loved cross country running. Physical exercise was my life but it was taken away from me overnight when my condition became so bad I ended up being housebound for six months and unable to attend school.
"I became very anxious, depressed and ashamed of my disability.”
When Abby did attend school, she was not allowed to participate in P.E. as she could risk injuring herself by potentially dislocating her joints or even fainting. At the time, Abby felt isolated as she continued to feel excluded from joining sports clubs and gyms as they were not accessible to her.
Determined not to give up, she started searching for accessible sports in her local area.
“I came across Forth Valley Disability Sport when I was at breaking point and looking for a way to meet like-minded people in my local area. Sport wasn’t the main motivator for joining, I found the social aspect helped save my life.
"It’s the chats with someone before and after you take part in a sport that really helped me. I found myself meeting new people and really looking forward to going back each week.”
The new SAMH initiative urges community sports clubs and organisations to help break down barriers by encouraging people to connect with others in their local area through sports and physical activity.
Research carried out by SAMH and sportscotland found 60 per cent of Scots who have been active throughout the pandemic said it has had a positive impact on their
well being, while more than half said it helped them to relax or switch off and over a third found it made them feel less anxious.
SAMH chief executive Billy Watson said: “Hundreds of organisations have signed up to the Charter since we launched in 2018. We are now targeting local clubs and
community organisations from the borders to our islands who can help people with mental health problems access sports and physical activity.
“There is a sport out there for everyone, whether it’s a local walking group or bowls, to more accessible sports like Pickleball or Boccia. But it’s the mental benefits we hear time and time again as making the real difference.
"Sports clubs can create a warm and welcoming environment for like-minded people and can help to widen social circles, which is a great driver for breaking down the barriers to physical activity and sport.”
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