Marathon Runner meets Their Royal Highnesses
Last Monday I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry at a World Mental Health Day event. This is because I am running the London Marathon next year for the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families (Anna Freud NCCF), where I work as a research assistant.
Running a marathon has always been something I’ve wanted to do. 26.2 miles is a rite of passage for a long distance runner, and I’ve been running competitively since I was 16 years old. Since high school I’ve missed the camaraderie of my cross country team and haven’t found it as easy to run independently, but I’ve still managed to (slowly) complete a few 5k and 10k races each year—most recently I did a 10-miler at Lee Valley Velodrome which had the delightful feature of a 1-mile loop which I ran around 10 times.
Since I first started running, I have noticed that it improves my mood. When I am running, all of the anxiety that has been building throughout the day seeps away and I feel perfectly empty. I enjoy the deep sense of calm that I get after a long run when I’m washing the mud off of my legs or gulping down a pint of water—there’s really nothing that compares to it. I get the sensation that by running I am improving and challenging myself and quite literally pushing forward in my life rather than allowing myself to become complacent. The clear mental health benefits of daily running have inspired me to continue to prioritise regular exercise in my life.
When the opportunity arose to be part of the London Marathon, I jumped at it. I am not in the shape I used to be, but I’m sure that I will be able to prepare for this race. It was an easy decision to choose the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families as my charity to support, as the Centre has been a second home to me since I moved to London from Seattle in 2013.
In 2015 I completed a Masters in developmental psychology and clinical practice at theCentre/University College London. As part of this, I spent one year working in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) placement in North London, where I met and worked with many children and families who were struggling with a variety of difficulties. I have since gone on to work as a research assistant at the Centre on two projects which aim to improve the quality of children’s mental healthcare in the United Kingdom. I admire the Centre’s philosophy of prioritising young people and their families’ views in the research, innovation and delivery of mental health services. I feel very lucky to be part of the team at the Evidence Based Practice Unit and to be contributing to ground-breaking research about child and adolescent mental health and service improvement.
You might be wondering what all of this has to do with meeting the royals. Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge is the Centre’s patron and is actively spreading the word about the need for improved mental health services for children and young people. Together with the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, the royals are spearheading the Heads Together Campaign, working to end the stigma around mental health in the United Kingdom. It is incredibly inspiring to these three using their high visibility as a platform for change.
At the event on Monday, the Duke of Cambridge stated, "Mental health is not a dirty word – we all have mental health like we do physical health, good or ill. But not seeking help at those times when it all seems too much, or we are depressed or anxious, can impact the rest of our lives. Put simply, the three of us want to make asking for help no longer a big deal."
The Duke’s words resonated with my own experience, as in the past I have been afraid to ask for help from others when I have been feeling low or overcome by anxiety. The sad truth is that there is still a huge stigma that persists around mental health and admitting that you have a mental health difficulty. It is completely unproductive for this to be the case, though, as 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. This means that you almost certainly know someone who is going through a difficult time and who could benefit from your help. In fact, sometimes the best therapy is just having someone that will listen to you talk.
After meeting the royals, I was ushered outside and onto the London Eye and sent high up into the clear autumn sky. As I looked out over the great city of London I imagined all of the people who have run the London Marathon since its inception in 1981 and felt comforted that I was doing something larger than myself.
I am so honoured to take part in this event and to raise money for a fantastic cause. You can donate to my Virgin Money Giving page here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RosaElizabethTown