Aled, from Gwynedd, explains how volunteering with his local Mind has helped him regain his confidence and make a difference.

Content warning: this blog mentions self-harm and a suicide attempt.

My name is Aled, and unknowingly I’ve struggled with mental health most of my life, the tell-tale signs were always there.

Being angry all the time, self-harming and becoming distant and withdrawn from people and social events. I believed I was unlovable, an empty shell and would eventually die alone.

In October 2021 I attempted to take my own life, and thankfully I didn’t succeed. With the help of my close friends, children and my incredible wife, I could seek the support I needed.

To begin with I was looking for somewhere I could go and talk about my experiences; somewhere like an AA meeting where I could speak to people who’ve gone through or are going through something similar. Somewhere to help me understand my thoughts and feelings. But I kept coming to a dead end.

That’s where the idea for the walking rugby group came from.

Rugby has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and when I hung my boots up over 5 years ago, I noticed a decline in my mental health. Forming this group allowed me to carry on with the sport I love in a safe way, while also helping others overcome mental health issues and seek the support and guidance they need.

“It’s given me the passion to promote normalising mental health and help others seek the help they need.”

When I approached Conwy Mind with the idea back in July 2022, the support and encouragement I received was fantastic. Conwy Mind supported me to gain the knowledge I would need, through training, to encourage people to talk about their feelings and to signpost to the professional services that are available around north Wales while also keeping active.

It would have been easy to give up, however, I am determined not to let this illness consume or define me. Instead, it’s given me the passion to promote normalising mental health and help others seek the help they need. Conwy Mind has been there and supported me to develop my idea from day one!

I wanted to use my negative experience to support others. Rugby and its community have been key to my ongoing recovery. Having this group run weekly allows others to access regular fitness and socialise with others dealing with similar difficulties.

Before my struggles I had never thought about volunteering, I naively thought this was something I was far too busy for. This can’t be further from the truth.

I’m able to fit volunteering into my family life as little or as often as I want.

“My favourite part of volunteering so far has been the feeling like I’m making a difference.”

When I first started this group, it was a daunting prospect having people coming along and looking to me for advice and listening to what I have to say. What I love most about volunteering is the confidence it’s given me to speak to new people, which has then given me confidence in other areas of my life too.

My favourite part of volunteering so far has been the feeling like I’m making a difference, even if only one person turns up it’s worth it knowing that I’ve made a difference in that one person’s life.

To anyone thinking of volunteering, the only advice I can give is jump in both feet first.

The experience you gain and the incredible people you meet volunteering is something that you can’t replicate!