Riding through tough times

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, we tell the story of Keri – who found cycling in her battle to overcome the “black dog”.

08 May 2017

Keri has always been fit and healthy.

The mother-of-three from Shropshire ran every week come rain or shine and often took part in 10k events.

That was until she began to suffer terrible pelvic pain following the birth of her third child and her physio delivered some devastating news.

Keri would have to stop doing the sport she loved or risk doing long-term and irreparable damage to her body.

Reaching out for help

Left devastated with no sport to keep her occupied – and “cut adrift” after giving up work to raise her three children – Keri’s mental health started to suffer. When she tried to step back into working life, the mental health issues she was experiencing only worsened.

“I went through a series of bad job interviews and was struggling to get out of bed,” says Keri.

“Something had to give and I eventually reached out to my GP, who diagnosed me with severe clinical depression and put me on a plan for recovery.”

I was fully aware that running wasn’t an option – but realised that the only way for me to beat the black dog of depression was to exercise

Keri Bramford-Hale, Breeze cyclist

Keri’s plan involved putting her self-doubt to one side. With the help of her doctor and support of her husband, Keri turned to cycling as a way of trying to improve her mental health. She hasn’t looked back since.

“My husband mentioned to me that the local cycling club were hosting some women’s-only rides, and that they might help me recover."

Those rides are part of Breeze – a project we fund through British Cycling to offer women and girls organised rides across England.

“I was fully aware that running wasn’t an option but realised that the only way for me to beat the black dog of depression was to exercise. So I very cautiously took up the idea and contacted my local Breeze Champion, Diane Jeggo.”

The power of sport

We know that sport and activity lowers anxiety and stress, improves overall mood and reduces the risk of depression.

Doing moderate levels of exercise several times a week also helps keep the brain sharp if you’re aged 50 and over, according to recent studies.

And as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, which runs from today until 14 May, we’re shining the spotlight on how sport can be used as a powerful tool to improve people's mental wellbeing.

What we’re doing

Our strategy, Towards an Active Nation, places the utmost importance on mental wellbeing –  and for good reason. It's a key area where sport can be used to change lives and communities.

As well as our support of British Cycling’s Breeze programme, another programme we’ve already invested in is Get Set to Go, run by mental health charity Mind.

The project is helping tens of thousands of people experiencing mental health problems find their way into activity.

As well as motivational stories and practical ideas to help get people started, it also helps them find peer support groups to build their confidence.

Bouncing back

Since getting involved with the cycling club in Shropshire, Keri has bounced back from the bombshell life threw at her three years ago.

Decked out in her running kit on her second-hand bike, Keri’s fears were soon banished thanks to the support of the “lovely lycra-clad women” she pedalled along with.

“They all had to start somewhere and nobody judged me for being a novice,” she says.

I can’t begin to tell you how much cycling has transformed my life

Keri Bramford-Hale, Breeze cyclist

“For the first time in 18 months I opened up about how terrible things had been, and how I felt like I’d lost all my identity.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much cycling has transformed my life. When I see that black dog, I grab the kit and helmet and go. I still struggle on the hills but I’ve got a bunch of amazing friends in both Breeze and club groups who cheer me on from the top.”

Further information

  • This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme is ‘surviving or thriving?' and asks why so few of us are flourishing with good mental health
  • Find out how you can get involved and follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #mhaw.