Brett Morse talks about mental health in sport
May 18th - 24th is mental health week in the UK. Mind.org.uk reports that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience mental health problems each year, and yet it is still a taboo subject for many. We don't believe in taboos - athletes need to be healthy, and that includes their mental health. We are very fortunate to be able to talk with Brett Morse about his experiences. We hope that you find this interview useful - we have listed some resources at the bottom for more information.
You have an impressive background in athletics, with a personal best discus throw of 66.84 and ranked 8th in the world in 2013. But in recent years you have struggled with injury followed by a serious illness in 2018-19. Many people may not realise that this was a mental health illness. You have clearly made an impressive recovery and are once again increasing your throws performance – hoping to regain your previous form in the next season.
We would love to find out more about your experiences in the hopes of increasing understanding of mental health, and the relationship between sport and mental health.
- If we may be so bold, what was your illness? What did it do to you?
This is something I don't really understand 100%. Life was good, I had just got back into the Great Britain team for the World cup and was modelling for some major brands around the world. For around 12 months prior to this I was struggling with my identity and who I was, so the warning signs were there. I was modelling for Burton and feeling a bit groggy and had my first ever panic attack, which at the time seemed like a heart attack - probably the scariest thing that's ever happened to me. Well, this kept happening then for most days for around 6 months. It was a real scary time and I'm so thankful to have turned it around. I was struggling with depression and health anxiety.
- How did your sport affect your illness?
Sport has actually helped me get it all back together, having structure and a focus had helped pull it back.
- How did your illness affect your sport?
- What helped you most in your recovery?
I wouldn't advise this but I thought it was necessary at the time: I spent all the money I had on private medical care. I was told over and over by professionals that the symptoms I had were caused by mental health, but I just didn't believe it. I had many blood tests, 3 full heart screenings, CT scan, MRI scan and many visits to A+E begging for help. When all these came back clear I thought it was time I tried to believe what I was told. From there it was about being around good people who really wanted the best for me and putting plans in place moving forward.
- Studies have shown that endurance sport (e.g. long runs) can help mental health. Discus is obviously not an endurance sport! Did you use any other sports or activities to support your recovery?
Discus itself isn't an endurance sport but I train now harder than ever in the gym and try and leave myself tired after every session*. I have noticed that if I can release all of my adrenaline in a session I am less likely to experience depression or anxiety symptoms.
- What was the most useful source of support for you?
Reading and learning! I tried to use my tools that made me a good athlete and student of the sport and bring them into this life. I tried to turn it into a competition-like environment and win.
- Was there anything that set you back and made recovery harder?
I broke my ribs playing 5 aside football with friends and ruptured my pec tendon junction bench pressing. They set me back slightly, but I just worked around it and structured my sessions differently than originally planned. I do really feel my life as an athlete helped me get over the mess I was in.
- Is there any advice you would give to someone in a similar situation, or to someone who wants to help athletes with their mental health?
Please talk! Especially in sports like mine where we are seen as big powerful alpha males - please talk. Don't be hard on yourself. I for one am always open to chat and with social media I'm easily accessible to talk to. I spoke with a lot of people who had been down the same path as me and we helped each other. I've actually made a lot of friends for life due to the illness and the problems I had, so it wasn't all doom and gloom!
Many thanks for your openness and honesty. We are very impressed by your journey and hope your answers will help many other athletes out there.
Good luck with your sport and from the team at Neuff.
Serious About Sport
https://www.sportinmind.org/ - mental health sports charity
https://www.mind.org.uk/about-us/our-policy-work/sport-physical-activity-and-mental-health/ - sports-related mental health resources
https://www.sportengland.org/campaigns-and-our-work/mental-health - Sport England's mental health information
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health - Mental Health Foundation
Download the Mental Health Foundation booklet on exercise here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-using-exercise
* Brett is an experienced professional athlete and this is his personal way of coping with his situation. Neuff Athletic advises that if you would like to use a similar approach then you should seek the advice of a professional coach before doing so. This is due to the risks of over-training and potentially causing more damage to your system.