For 2016, the Invictus Games have placed a big emphasis on mental illness.
Taking place in Orlando, Florida from the 8th until the 12th of May, Prince Harry has actively spoken out about his hopes that the games may inspire those who have been affected by mental health conditions to seek help.
The prince founded the games in 2014 and, at this year’s opening ceremony, which took place last week, he commented:
“It’s not just physical injuries that our Invictus competitors have overcome. Every single one of them will have confronted tremendous emotional and mental challenges. When we give a standing ovation to the competitor with the missing limbs, let’s also cheer our hearts out for the man who overcame anxiety so severe he couldn’t leave his house. Let’s cheer for the woman who fought through post-traumatic stress, and let’s celebrate the soldier who was brave enough to get help for his depression.”
“To those of you who are watching at home and who are suffering from mental illness in silence – whether you’re a veteran or a civilian, a mum or a dad, a teenager or a grandparent – I hope you see the bravery of our Invictus champions who have confronted invisible injuries and I hope you are inspired to ask for the help that you need.”
Speaking to a US television station, the prince also said he wants to try to help remove the stigma that so often surrounds mental health problems and remind people that conditions such as depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not life sentences.
This is the second time that the games have been run with the first event taking place in London in 2014. Despite being in its early days, the games proved to be a huge success and captured the hearts and challenged the minds of many.
Having changed so many lives, it’s hardly surprising that this year the games have generated a huge amount of support. Many famous faces including Michelle Obama, Morgan Freeman and George W. Bush made an appearance at the recent opening ceremony and offered their support.
The games see athletes from 14 different countries compete in a number of events over the space of four days. The Paralympic-style tournament features track and field athletics, indoor rowing, sitting volleyball, wheelchair rugby, tennis, basketball, cycling, swimming, archery and a triathlon.
Having spent 10 years in the British Army himself, Prince Harry founded the games because he wanted to recognise servicemen and women who had suffered life-changing injuries, visible or otherwise, whilst serving for their country.
The word ‘Invictus’ was chosen because it means ‘unconquered’. The games proudly represent the fighting spirit of those who were wounded, injured or sick whilst serving in the Army and highlights what these people can achieve post-injury. Crucially, they also highlight how important sport can be when it comes to recovering from physical and mental illness.
Why exercise is beneficial to mental health
Experts have always known the physical benefits of exercise but it’s only in recent years that psychologists have discovered how invaluable it is to mental health.
Releases endorphins – one of the main reasons exercise is so good for mental health is because when a person is doing something active, the brain releases chemicals called endorphins, and it is these that make a person feel happier and more relaxed. Endorphins are also natural mood lifters that can help to keep depression and stress at bay, and make a person calmer and more optimistic.
Distracts our minds - when physically active, a person’s mind is distracted from daily stressors that cause anxiety, such as work and finances. Team sports in particular are known to provide people with the opportunity to unwind as well as engage in a challenge that improves fitness. Furthermore, group exercise sessions also provide social benefits as it’s a chance to connect with others in a fun and relaxed environment.
Improves our sleep - another benefit of exercising on a regular basis is that it can help to improve the quality of a person’s sleep by helping them to fall asleep faster and fall into a deeper slumber. This in itself can be particularly helpful to mental outlook as well as improve mood.
Keeps our minds sharp - regular physical activity has also been found to help keep key mental skills sharp. Research has found that doing a combination of aerobic and muscle strengthening activities is particularly helpful and doing so three to five times a week is enough to provide noticeable benefits to a person’s mental health.
If you think that you or someone you know could be struggling with a mental health problem, please feel free to contact Life Works in the strictest of confidence and we will be more than happy to help.