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Tue, 27 October 2020

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Rugby clubs are helping men to tackle life's challenges

Rugby clubs are helping men to tackle life's challenges

Kevin Smith (Centre) with members of the Castleford Tigers Rugby League team.

The National Lottery

4 min read Partner content

As a presenter at Offload, a National Lottery-funded mental fitness project run by professional Rugby League clubs in Warrington, Salford and Widnes, Kevin shared candid stories from his past and passed on tactics and strategies to manage everyday life.

Kevin Smith is married with a 5-year-old son and is studying to become a mental health nurse. At the age of 40, he looks to the future with optimism and excitement and says he wouldn’t change any part of the past, despite his experiences of alcoholism, self-harm and attempted suicide.

Kevin said, “It’s made me become the man I am now. If I hadn’t gone through the drinking and those other problems, I wouldn’t be married with a kid or be studying to be a nurse.”

10th October was World Mental Health Day, a day to recognise the challenges that many people face. The National Lottery spoke to Kevin about his past and how he uses his life experiences to help other men struggling with addiction and mental health issues. 

As a presenter at Offload, a National Lottery-funded mental fitness project run by professional Rugby League clubs in Warrington, Salford and Widnes, he shared candid stories from his past and passed on tactics and strategies to manage everyday life.

He said, “The amount of lives that Offload saves is unreal. As soon as you walk through the door, you’ll always have someone who will shake your hand and really listen to you.”

Statistics show that men are much more likely than women to die by suicide. Indeed three-quarters of the 6,507 suicides recorded in the UK in 2018 were men, according to figures compiled by the Office of National Statistics.

Kevin says he tried to end his own life on 4 occasions before. At the age of 30, he finally admitted he was an alcoholic and stopped drinking.

He was in his early 20s when the sudden death of his father caused him to start to use alcohol to numb his feelings. When he fell down the stairs at his home in Warrington, fractured his skull and was forced to spend six months at home recuperating, his drinking began to escalate at an alarming rate.

Kevin said, “It got really, really bad. I’d have 24 cans of beer at home, a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of vodka. I’d drink until I passed out completely.”

Offload is one of those places where people take off their mask. In a group like that, you can be who you are and explain exactly what’s going on in your life.

When alcohol was no longer enough to smother his anxiety and depression, Kevin began to self-harm. He returned to work at a credit control company, but his alcoholism – “I was going out at lunch time and drinking” – soon affected his work and he lost his job. His depression and his alcoholism deepened.

Kevin said, “Each time I’d attempt suicide, I’d be sent to detox, but it never worked.”

Then, at the age of 30, something changed. He said, “The turning point was attending a detox clinic in Manchester and realising my drinking was affecting my mum as much as it was affecting me. The hardest part was admitting that I had a problem. Plenty of people can tell you they think you’re an alcoholic, but until you can admit it to yourself, you won’t change.”

Three years ago Kevin met a former Rugby League player who was one of the presenters at Offload. Like every presenter at the project, the ex-player had his own experience of mental health issues.

Kevin decided to attend an Offload meeting. He said, “I thought it would be good to listen to other people’s stories and hear how they deal with things. Offload is one of those places where people take off their mask. In a group like that, you can be who you are and explain exactly what’s going on in your life.”

Such places are needed desperately by men in particular. Kevin said, “Men just keep things to ourselves. We tell people we’re doing fine when we’re not.”

Thanks to players of The National Lottery, £30 million pounds is raised for Good Causes every week, funding projects across the UK and helping communities come together.    

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