A number of Honey Stinger Hive athlete ambassadors are also a part of another athlete community Go4Graham. Go4Graham brings athletes together to help shred the stigma of mental health through exercise, community, and education. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, we spoke with founder Will Stingley to learn more about the organization and how they are working to break the stigma around mental health.
Photo courtesy of Go4Graham
What is Go4Graham and how did it begin?
The Go4Graham Foundation (G4G) is a non-profit organization with a mission to “shred the stigma” surrounding mental health and to promote mental wellness through exercise, community, and education. It began as a way to honor my brother Graham who died when he was 23 years old. I walked into his apartment in 2005 where I found his lifeless body. His death was caused by an interaction of depression medication with over the counter cold medicine.
Only after my own bouts of serious depression, including suicidal ideations, did I realize how much stigma existed and how little people talked about it. I felt the urge to help people like my brother and the other millions of people suffering.
How does exercise play a role in Go4Graham’s mission?
It’s at the core of our mission. We believe (and overwhelming research supports) that exercise is a crucial and underutilized component to both the treatment and prevention of mental health issues and mood disorders. We are also able to show people that even high performing athletes still struggle with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Our athletes are given a platform to share their own struggles with mental health, which helps normalize the problem and builds hope!
How do you work to “shred the stigma?”
Overcoming stigma is one of the most important and most challenging obstacles in improving mental health outcomes. One of the ways is to encourage people to be open about their mental health struggles. Opening up and having a conversation is the biggest step you can take to reduce stigma. It also helps us feel better! We have created a space where people know it’s not only accepted but encouraged to talk about mental health. The original intent of “G4G” was to strike up conversations with strangers out on the trail about mental health. We even chose to wear bright purple jerseys to help beg the question, “What is Go4Graham?”. We have grown to include a sustainable program working with both mental health and physical health partners to connect these worlds, where G4G and its ‘ambassadors’ play an intermediate role in that facilitation.
Why is connection so important to mental health?
Research shows that feeling connected to others is one of the largest factors for treating and preventing mental health issues. It also shows that we are connecting (face to face) less so than ever before. Humans are biologically wired to need authentic social connection.
Photo courtesy of Go4Graham
How do you work to educate people about mental health?
Mental Health disorders are some of the least understood issues in our society, which is baffling because they are so prevalent. Ignorance leads to shame and stigma. Shame and stigma lead to worse outcomes. It’s estimated 65% of people suffering from mental health issues never seek treatment.
Go4Graham works to educate our communities on a wide variety of mental health related topics by hosting workshops and having our ambassadors attend workshops and become educated themselves.
What are tips you would pass on to others to support those in their lives dealing with mental health issues?
Supporting loved ones who have depression or anxiety is extremely hard in so many ways. These disorders can not only affect the patient but also their family and friends. Research shows that one of the most effective things to do is just to talk to them, and do it directly. Ask them how their mental health is. Check in on them often. If necessary, help them contact resources like a therapist or psychiatrist.
Navigating the mental health treatment system can be extremely hard, especially when your brain is not functioning properly. I also think it’s important for the caretaker to take care of themselves and set appropriate boundaries.
How many members does G4G have?
We are very inclusive so we range from pro level cyclists and runners, to someone who wants to try their very first 5k. There are approximately 200 supporters/advocates of our movement, to date. Mostly from the US (Colorado) but we have several in Florida and some as far as Europe and South America.
How do your ambassadors and race teams work to spread G4G’s mission?
They not only represent the cause just like other people would represent brands, but they are an active part of it. We aim to educate all of our ambassadors to become mental health advocates in their own communities and among their own friends and family. We encourage our ambassadors to ‘be the person that people feel comfortable bringing up their struggles with,’ while knowing how to support them and what resources are available.
Photo courtesy of Go4Graham
Do your ambassadors receive any mental health related training?
Yes, some of our athletes have been to a training in a suicide prevention method called QPR. With our growing numbers and COVID-19 challenges, we are currently working on an online workshop for all new ambassadors to educate them on mental health 101, the power and effects of stigma, and the importance of exercise and community.
What is something you think everyone should know about mental health?
- – Depression and anxiety are the most common disorders in the world.
- – Depression and Anxiety are very treatable conditions in most cases and there are so many different treatment options.
- – If you are going through mental health issues now, just know you are not alone! Never give up hope even when it seems impossible.