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“Talking saved my life” rugby ace tells Sellafield construction workers

Jimmy Gittens (third from left) and Danny Sculthorpe (fifth from left) with organisers of the event from Balfour Beatty and Sellafield Ltd

Former super league rugby player Danny Sculthorpe has been encouraging construction workers at Sellafield to open up about mental health.

The retired Wigan prop talked to 500 workers at the nuclear site about his battle with depression, and how they can help to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues.

Sculthorpe said: “The alpha-male culture is nonsense, talking about our problems is not a weakness, it is actually a strength.”

“As rugby players, and like in other competitive sports, we were always encouraged to hide our vulnerability, , but the culture this breeds can have tragic consequences.”

“I now spend a lot of time speaking to sports professionals and people who work in typically ‘macho’ environments like firefighting, the police force and construction, telling them that it takes a strong person so ask others for help if they are struggling.”

Having talked to the nuclear workers about his suicide attempt, he said; “Talking to my family and friends saved my life. Mental illness isn’t the killer, the stigma and shame attached to it is the real killer.”

Danny Sculthorpe is a Trustee for the ‘State of Mind’ programme, which aims to improve the mental health, wellbeing and working life of sporting professionals.

He was forced to retire aged 30 following a training injury and subsequent surgery, having contracted an MRSA virus.

He was joined at Sellafield by fellow rugby star Jimmy Gittens, who suffered depression after being paralysed by a broken neck. He told the crowd that “the main part of my recovery was talking, it is the best form of rehab.”

They were invited by the event sponsor, Balfour Beatty, who brought together a range of companies working on construction projects at the Sellafied nuclear site.

The event aims to support Mates in Mind, a registered charity that aims to raise awareness, address the stigma of poor mental health and improve positive mental wellbeing specifically in the UK construction industry.

Iain Wilson, Nuclear Director for Balfour Beatty said: “In a country where 42% of construction workers are likely to experience mental health issues, we are committed to creating a business with mental health and wellbeing at its heart.

“Balfour Beatty is delighted to work together with Sellafield Ltd and other construction companies, to raise awareness and foster an open culture where our employees feel able to talk about their mental health without feeling they will be judged.”

Sellafield Ltd.’s Mark Sarrington said: “We all know how to deal with the traditional safety hazards on congested construction sites. However a change in someone’s behaviour, signs of stress, pressure and anxiety aren’t as easy to spot.

“We want to create an environment where our employees feel able to talk about their mental health and know where to go to for support.

“Many of us are employed by different companies, but are essentially one team working on the same mission to clean-up Sellafield, so it’s great to be standing together on something as important as mental health.”

Information and advice was provided by a number of supporting organisations, with experts from ‘Mates in Mind’, Citizens Advice Bureau and the NHS, showing people the range of support available.

It also featured a performance by professional acting group, Dramanon, who recreated the experiences of someone with mental health issues, which prompted some energetic discussions.

Other organisations supporting the event were Morgan Sindall, Wood, M & W Group, Cavendish Nuclear, OneFM, Firpress Printers, Mire Services and Calderwood House.

Mates in Mind has an ambitious goal – to reach 100,000 workers in the first year, and by 2025, to have reached 75% of the construction industry.

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