School’s Mind Over Mile Challenge

In July Chew Valley School welcomed bereavement charity founder and BBC Mind Over Marathon participant Rhian Burke. The ‘2 Wish Upon A Star’ creator was at the school to share her own experiences of mental health with children and launch the school’s Mind Over Mile challenge.

“The effect of losing our son blew my husband’s mind, but what blew my mind was that no-one came to support us,” Rhian Burke told Year 7 pupils at Chew Valley School.

Five years ago Rhian’s one year old son, George, died suddenly after an unexplained seizure, five days later a police man knocked on her door at the family home in Wales to tell Rhian that her husband who had gone out just over an hour before had been found dead under a bridge. He had taken his own life so overcome with grief and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at the loss of his youngest child.

With two other small children to raise Rhian just tried to keep going.

Feeling the impact of a lack of support in the immediate aftermath of George’s death, Rhian decided to set up ‘2 Wish Upon a Star’, a charity which provides support for suddenly bereaved parents. Rhian’s mission was that no other parents should be left so alone in their grief as she and her husband Paul had been.

“I couldn’t just sit in bed and mope, so I set up the charity,” Rhian told the young pupils during her inspirational talk at Chew Valley.

Over the next four years the charity grew; it has funded the development and refurbishment of family rooms in six hospitals in Wales, provides support workers and counselling to parents within 48 hours of their bereavement, has established support groups in various locations throughout Wales, and offers complementary therapies.

But, Rhian tells the Chew Valley students, whilst she was busy and taking care of her family she was also masking her own feelings not wanting anyone to know how sad she was or admit that she wasn’t coping.

“Then last year, one day I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed, I felt that I couldn’t do it anymore,” says Rhian.

With the weight of grief and depression on her Rhian was given antidepressants and sent for counselling.

“Then one day someone told me the BBC were looking for people who were struggling with their mental health to take part in a London Marathon. Initially I thought it wasn’t for me, I wasn’t struggling and I’m not a runner.”

But Rhian did decide to apply for the documentary which followed a group of people with various mental health issues as they were supported by a team of fitness and health professionals to train for the London Marathon 2017.

“I trained and it was hard, but the hardest part was opening up and talking about how I felt, but as I did this big burden of weight got lighter and lighter. And I completed the marathon: I wasn’t quick it took me five and half hours but I wanted to finish it. I didn’t do it for Paul or the kids I did it for me.

“The programme changed my life, I’m not taking tablets anymore, I am not having to see a counsellor. Every time my head gets a little fuzzy I put on my running trainers. It saved my mind, and I’m here to show you how exercise can help you. You don’t need to run a marathon, it can be walking the dog, it can be gardening, but being active really helps.”               

Chew Valley School who have long advocated the same message invited Rhian to the school to take part in their own challenge Mind over Mile. Inspired by the documentary the challenge students, staff and even the head teacher Mr Beynon ran or walked one mile with Rhian on the school’s athletics field.

Second in PE and Head of Boys PE Sam Monk explained that after watching the documentary “We wanted to do a Chew Valley PE version and Mind over Mile made sense as a way to promote exercise in helping with mental health awareness.”

The challenge proved so successful with hundreds of children taking part that Rhian is planning to incorporate the Mind over Mile challenge through her charity ‘2 Wish Upon a Star’ as part of her campaign to remove the stigma around mental health particularly suicide and ensure no-one is left alone in their grief or despair as she and her husband Paul were.

“It is okay to talk about your problems,” Rhian told the audience at her talk. “Also don’t be afraid to listen. Sometimes it is okay just to be there as a friend, people worry what to say to someone who is struggling. But just to know someone is there, listening, is a real comfort.”

This article was written by the editor of the Chew Valley & Wrington Vale Gazette first appearing in the Gazette’s August 2017 edition, and is reproduced here with thanks.