Armley man inspired by own struggles sets up running project with focus on mental health in Leeds

A man from Armley has set up a running project with a mental health focus in Leeds having used exercise to help combat his own struggles.

Joshua Birch, 26, has suffered with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder tendencies.

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His struggles led to a suicide attempt and while seeking support from mental health professionals, the benefits of running and exercise in general were discussed.

Named 'It's OK to Run', the project begins with a meet-up on Tuesday 5 July. Credit: Simon Hulme

A close friend had used running to help manage their mental health and soon enough, Joshua developed a passion for it and found it to be an effective tool in the management of his own mental health.

"I experienced first-hand the benefits that running can have for your mental health," he explained. "After around two or three runs, I immediately felt like it was working.

"It got to a stage where I wasn't taking any rest days, quite simply because I was just absolutely loving it.

"I just wished I had discovered it earlier and taken it on years ago."

Attendees will be given a space to talk freely and openly about their feelings. Credit: Simon Hulme

Named 'It's OK to Run', the project begins with a meet-up on Tuesday 5 July for a run and the hope is that it will become a weekly free-to-attend gathering.

Attendees will be given a space to talk freely and openly about their feelings, although there is no obligation and people can simply turn up to exercise in a relaxed group environment.

"We don't expect people to turn up and complete 5k in 15 minutes, 20 minutes, whatever it may be," he said. "It's purely and simply just a project where people can come with a mutual love of running and talk a little bit about how they're feeling.

"If they don't want to speak, they don't have to say anything."

A challenging few years blighted by a global pandemic and widespread isolation has placed mental health firmly under the microscope, although Joshua feels it is still not spoken about enough.

"If people said to me a few years ago, 'do you want to talk about how you feel?', I wouldn't have been open to doing so because of that taboo around it," he said. "It's part of life for many people and it should really be spoken about more, I think."

His firm belief in the benefits of being open and devotion to drawing on his personal experiences to help others has fuelled the creation of 'It's OK to Run'.

"Mental health has always been there but it's not necessarily something that's always been spoken about," he said. "Covid and everything has had a massive impact on millions of people all over the world and I do think that having something like this can, hopefully, help people."

The first meeting will be held at Kirkstall Abbey and more details can be requested by sending an e-mail to [email protected]