Making a difference: How Rugby League figures are spearheading a new mental health initiative

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected many people’s lives in many different ways, but few to the extent of Oldham assistant coach Brendan Sheridan.

Back in April, the younger brother of former Leeds and Great Britain scrum-half Ryan spent two weeks in an induced coma.

Sheridan went from feeling “9/10 fine” to being rushed to hospital within a matter of hours, having shown none of the coronavirus symptoms before struggling to breathe one afternoon.

The otherwise healthy 41-year-old was placed on a ventilator and later needed to be packed in ice to reduce his fever while his family had to rely on updates from the hospital.

Sheridan recovered, but then revealed how the experience had a significant psychological effect that saw him referred to the Sporting Chance clinic to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder.

It began a counselling process that recently saw him diagnosed with severe bipolar.

But it also sparked a desire in him to help other people that have struggled with mental health issues.

This year he has completed a diploma in cognitive behaviour and he is now part of a visionary new Here2Help hub in Dewsbury that aims to support those dealing with mental health issues.

Sheridan said: “Having understood everything that I’ve been through, it created a burning desire to help other people.

“Not just sports men and women, but people from all kind of backgrounds, because this doesn’t affect a specific type of person.

“Standing up in front of others and talking about my experiences has been a relief – previously my coping mechanism would have been through having a drink.

“I’ve felt comfortable sharing my experiences from childhood right through to this point, and I haven’t left any stone unturned.

“I think it’s helped me and my therapy, and you can see people listening and getting on board with what you’re saying.”

The hub has been set up by local G2M Fitness gym owner Stacy Gott, a former semi-professional footballer who used to train with Rugby League players Keith Senior, Ewan Dowes and Danny Mills.

Two other former players in Shane Hussain and Chris Hall are also on a newly established committee, and Gott says there is a clear need for this kind of facility in the Dewsbury area.

He explained: “I have quite a lot of connections with Rugby League lads in this area and kept hearing about young lads that had committed suicide due to not having any support.

“Shaw Cross Sharks have had three lads in the last 18 months commit suicide, and although it hadn’t affected me personally, it was affecting friends of friends that I have.

“I thought with the connections that I have in the local community and the facility we have at the gym, we could do something to help.

“My ex-partner was diagnosed with bipolar, so people dealing with their mental health is something I’ve had in my life.

“During the first lockdown I did counselling and therapy courses, and we decided to use an empty office under the gym as a hub for people to come and talk.

“We worked alongside Brett and Mark Turner at Shaw Cross and got some feedback from the club about why young lads had been committing suicide.

“The first idea was to offer local sports clubs 30 minute mental health awareness talks and then have 30 minutes exercise upstairs in the gym, and it all snowballed from there.

“It’s a totally free service, and we’ve started having talks. I’m close friends with the former Batley conditioner John Heaton and he came down, and then Brendan delivered stuff about his experiences, which was a massive help.

“There’s no better person to have on board than Brendan after what he’s gone through and our numbers are already rising.

“Hopefully it can go from strength to strength.”

*The Here2Help Hub is a non-profit organisation and is looking for sponsors to help develop its work. Any interested parties – or anyone looking for help with their mental health – can email or telephone 01924 650270.

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