How one woman is beating depression by developing a passion for running

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
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New data from the NHS shows young women are at a higher risk of living with mental health problems than any other demographic, demonstrating an ever-growing need for support and information on the topic. Today, on World Mental Health Day, writer Sarah Biddlecombe talks to 23-year-old fashion intern and freelance writer Jess Noah Morgan about her determination to beat depression – and the surprising outlet that has kept her low moods at bay.

I’ve dealt with having low moods my whole life but, for me, the main problem began when I was sexually assaulted at the age of 19. It tore my whole world apart.

I couldn’t do anything. I became agoraphobic and couldn’t leave the house for six months. I was at college studying at the time but became unable to attend as I couldn’t physically get there, and I wasn’t able to socialise or be around men. It was really hard because I missed a whole chunk of my education and eventually had to start all over again. Sometimes I look back and wish I was the same person I was before everything happened, 

But unfortunately these things happen, and we have to try and be the best we can be.

After the assault I was crying all the time and felt every emotion I could have felt. In particular, I felt so guilty. Then the turning point came when I tried to take my own life.

Afterwards, I went to the doctor to seek professional help and was diagnosed with depression in 2012. I was given antidepressants and decided to try and get my life back on track. I tried counselling on the NHS but had trouble voicing how I felt and found it really intimidating to have someone sat on the sofa opposite me. So I stayed on the meds for about a year and a half but sometimes they just made me feel worse, so I stopped taking them.

However, my mental health declined again last September and, recognising the feelings and thoughts I was having from the first time around, I decided to go back to my GP and try to deal with the issue more knowledgably.

I went back on antidepressants around the same time that I started taking running more seriously. I have always been sporty and used to compete nationally in athletics but it wasn’t until last year that I really started getting into it.

Jess meeting Prince Harry at an event held by mental health charity Mind

Jess meeting Prince Harry at an event held by mental health charity Mind

My ex-boyfriend was a marathon runner and he’d drag me along to his training runs which, gradually, I started to really enjoy. I found that they really helped with balancing out my mood.

When I first started running I hated doing it on my own, and even listening to music couldn’t motivate me. My ex forced me into running my first race, the Hackney Half in May 2015, even though I’d barely done any training. I ran it on my own, listening to music and not talking to anyone: it was horrible but I wanted to do it again.

I decided I had to join a running group, so I signed up for one called Run Dem Crew, where loads of us meet in London every Tuesday. It’s more like a community than a club, and it was great for my confidence as I made loads of new friends who drag me along running even when I don’t want to go. We all meet up at the weekends and go for dinners: it’s so much fun.

Now I can’t run on my own at all, and see running as more of a social thing. In my group we never listen to music, we just chat, which I never used to be able to do when running. Before I got my fitness up I could just about manage a smile as I moved.

"Now I can’t run on my own at all, and see running as more of a social thing"

"Now I can’t run on my own at all, and see running as more of a social thing"

In August last year I ran 15 miles, which was the most I’d ever run in my life, and I thought to myself, ‘I’m at the back of the pack but I’ve done it’. I was crying my way up the hills as I ran but everyone was so encouraging and it was such an achievement. I thought to myself, ‘wow, I’ve come such a long way’.

It felt so good to have achieved that goal and it really boosted my confidence. I literally felt like I could do anything, and I have: since then I have run a total of four marathons, including the Great Wall of China marathon, which was my biggest achievement to date.

It was so hard, as the elevation on the wall is unreal and it was baking hot, but I had a clear goal in mind that I needed to get to the end by keeping my training up and making sure my mental health was on the straight and narrow. I didn’t want to let myself down by being unable to do this race.

The run itself gave me perspective in every way possible. It became more than just a race to me: it was a love for running and a love for community. I looked out over the views and thought to myself, ‘am I actually here?’

"I looked out over the views and thought to myself, ‘am I actually here?’"

Jess on the Great Wall of China: "I looked out over the views and thought to myself, ‘am I actually here?’"

I finally came off the antidepressants in March this year because the exercise was doing so much more to help me than the medication.

I definitely believe exercise is the number one outlet for depression and anxiety. My advice for anyone suffering from it would be to reach out and talk to people whenever you need to. Community is so important in beating something like this: sometimes you just don’t have the energy to go to the GP, so it’s comforting to have people around you.

Ever since I started talking openly about mental illness, which was only back in February of this year, I’ve had a swarm of people around me who have been through similar things. Everyone’s talking about it, which is so important.

There are so many people who deal with depression and mental health issues. It shouldn't be something that's not talked about.

Jess is an ambassador for Mind. All images courtesy of Jess Morgan/Mind.

Jessica writes a mental health/lifestyle blog, you can find it here.

If you, or anyone you know, needs support or further information on mental health, head to the NHS or Mind.