Interview: TotalMTB and Mental Health Matters

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Recently TotalMTB posted a new video as part of their #MentalHealthMatters campaign. The video features a lot of riders, industry people and mountain bikers. The aim is to raise awareness of the importance of looking after your mental health.

Curious about the campaign, mental health and how it all ties into riding, I spoke to Ryan Oldfield, founder of TotalMTB about how it got started and what they are all about.

What is TotalMTB and how did it all get started?

After seeking help for my own mental health and anxiety I realised how important going out on the bike and being out in nature was for my mental health.

I wanted to try and inspire others to do the same. I looked on social media (mainly Instagram) and noticed most of the accounts on there were posting about really famous and known riders. In order to really inspire and encourage ‘normal’ people to get out on their bikes. I wanted to repost posts from ‘normal’ people about their rides and bike adventures.

Why did I think this would help others?

Seeing other riders in locations others could relate to would inspire them more than seeing places like Morzine and Whistler all the time. Seeing other riders who aren’t known and possibly have just a few hundred followers could inspire others. Followers aren’t what matters. If they see someone riding fairly local to them they may get in contact and have a buddy to ride with in the future. They could ask people from posts they see about their opinion or advice on a trail, a bike, clothing etc. Being able to get a repost from our account could inspire and encourage people to get out for a ride

So when you go into detail it’s more than just a post.

TotalMTB
Photo: Pedal Slip
Tell us about the #mentalhealthmatters campaign?

MentalHealthMatters is a campaign we’ve started to bring more awareness to mental health and hopefully remove some of the stigmas around it.

https://twitter.com/TotalMTB_/status/1427682294425341958

I want to raise awareness for mental health. If people are suffering but don’t quite know what it is or how to describe it, they could see our campaign and posts and they may realise they’re suffering and hopefully seek help through family, friends, GP or charities.

We want people to talk about their mental health and struggles and see TotalMTB as a safe place to open up without feeling judged or looked down on. Other riders share their own mental health stories with us to share with our community and followers. It’s great because they’ve opened up, shared their story with us and allowed us to share it in a post with our community which hopefully helps others.

It’s ok not to be ok, social media does sometimes promote the perfect side to peoples lives but I think MTB is different, a high percentage of people aren’t afraid to let their guard down. Men can often feel under pressure a lot to be ok, strong and not look vulnerable. Through social media, we’re attempting to slowly break this down. It is good to see though that it’s around 50/50 with the people sharing their stories between men and women.

If people are suffering though I urge them to seek help. I feel like once you start to talk about it, understand your mind, your triggers, what can help you calm, talk to family and friends about it and how they can help you it makes a massive difference. You don’t need to hide your feelings or worries.

Most importantly PLEASE DON’T SUFFER ALONE!!! Mountain biking and being outside in nature is such a powerful thing for your brain, mental health and good endorphins. You don’t have to go for miles and hours, just what you feel comfortable with. You can go on your own or with friends, whatever makes you happy.

Total MTB
Photo: Pedal Slip
What has the reception been like for TotalMTB, both in terms of the charity side as well as the mental health aspect?

I slowly started to introduce both supporting charities and non-profit projects as well as the mental health side of things as it wasn’t there from the start. I wanted followers to adjust and not be bombarded with things they hadn’t followed us for.

But the response has been absolutely fantastic. There has been so much support for the charities and non-profit projects we support. We’re closing in on £10,000 raised for charities and non-profit projects. We’ve also planted nearly 500 trees so far (only started this year) on behalf of the TotalMTB community. We’re always on the lookout to support more charities and non-profit projects. The response to the mental health posts have been fantastic and a lot more than I thought it would. There are so many comments of support for me and others suffering and people getting in touch for us to share their own personal mental health stories.

It’s fantastic to help them all out with a platform to speak from and a place to share their stories.

When you talk about your anxiety and not knowing you had it, you said you thought it was just you. For others that perhaps feel this way, like there may be something, would you advise them to talk to someone?

My anxiety symptoms were very visible, people could easily spot them but no one actually thought more about them and linked it to something.

At one point I got so down and annoyed with how I was feeling I Googled it and it straight away suggested I had social anxiety. I can remember there being a tick list of anxiety symptoms and I was just ticking them all and remembering times in my childhood where I had experienced the exact feeling (having said this I wouldn’t recommend Googling it). I then searched for help from my GP.

Through TotalMTB and my own personal social media, I now try and raise awareness for mental health when I can. I talk about how I feel so that people either suffering themselves, or have a family member suffering can think if they have similar symptoms and seek help. I believe finding it early makes a massive difference as you have more time to learn how to live with it.

Photo: Pedal Slip
You’ve always been open about your own mental health struggles, how do you think riding has helped?

Riding and being out in nature is such a powerful tool for your mental health. The fresh air, being able to escape work life, getting good endorphins from the sun and trees. Listening to the wildlife, stream, wind etc. All your senses take you away from a busy and stressful life even for a short time and it’s fantastic. It’s scientifically proven that being out in nature helps the good endorphins. I would read up on it if it’s something that interests you, or you want to know why etc. I try to find a place to stop and relax, maybe have something to eat and drink and just take in the surroundings. It sounds simple but it really does work, well for me so I would strongly recommend it.

On top of that, you have the chemicals realised by your body when you bike/exercise which again helps release good endorphins as well as your fitness. You can meet up with friends and go biking together, or go on social rides so you can talk to people and get your brain engaged that way.

Another way I can clear my head is to go downhill mountain biking as you HAVE to concentrate on what you are doing and you can’t think about anything else. If your mind does go, you run the risk of crashing and coming off your bike. Once you start to look into biking and mental health there are so many benefits and different ways to get the benefits.

Would you say there’s been a shift in the way we talk about mental health?

I get several people per month messaging me to say our posts have helped or to share their mental health stories. I think people are getting more comfortable and confident in talking about it which is great to see.

More podcasts are asking me to come on to talk about mental health which they might not have done before. It seems there’s been a shift in both riders and the media seeing how important mental health and mental health awareness is.

Do you think there’s been a change in regards to mental health since TotalMTB launched?

When I first started to talk about mental health on the TotalMTB social platforms there was some engagement. As time goes on more and more people are commenting not only to support, but also about how they are suffering. More people are also sharing their mental health posts with TotalMTB to share with our followers to raise awareness and help others possibly feeling the same.

TotalMTB
Photo: Pedal Slip
I think sometimes there’s a pressure to feel like you need to be riding all the time. Sometimes life or the way you feel may get in the way. If you’re struggling with anxiety and want to ride, but aren’t in the right frame of mind, how do you deal with that. What would you say to others that feel the same?

I don’t want anyone at all to feel pressure whether it is from social media or offline. People need to listen and know their minds and bodies. If they really don’t feel up to it it’s not a bad thing to not go on a ride. Relax and hope to go out the next day or soon. You could go for a shorter ride if you don’t feel up to a usual longer ride. Or go for a ride knowing at any time you can turn round and come back.

It’s one of the beauties of biking, unless it’s a race everything will be the same the next day, next week etc. The only thing that does change is the weather. There is no need to put pressure on yourself at all. I actually see quite a few posts from people saying they were struggling so took some time away for themselves to relax and recover and now they’re back and wanted to share that experience with others. Not only do I appreciate the openness of the post. I think it’s so important for others to see this side of people and know it’s ok to feel like this.

In this last year someone who has been posting more honest posts about mental health and behind the scenes of elite riding is Tahnee Seagrave, she posts about the downs as well as the ups, the mental health struggles, being a female in the sport etc. I think for her to share these stories is so brave and absolutely fantastic as it’s so important for youngsters who look up to her to see these posts.

What are you most proud of with TotalMTB to date?

People that message me to say how our posts have helped and they’ve had the courage to talk to their family about how they feel because of our account. People who have the courage to share their mental health posts about how they’re feeling or suffering and ask me to share them to raise more awareness for social media and that it’s ok to feel that way.

The charity and non-profit donations as well as the trees planted all from our community and followers. Our TotalBuddies project where volunteers with mental health experience or training help take out someone who is low on confidence or has anxiety about riding and they take them out to improve their confidence. The messages we’ve got from people who have taken part have been fantastic.

In our TotalSurprise project, we find people who have gone through a tough time, or those doing awesome things for the MTB community and try to find out what they would love and try and make it happen. It’s great to surprise someone and raise their spirits even for a little while. We’ve built a fantastic community that is so supportive of everyone no matter who they are and what they’re going through. We support and encourage everyone.

People wear our apparel with pride, especially our mental health range. This has a mental health message as well as some money from each sale going to charity. People are proud to wear them and love to promote them and us. The fantastic team of ambassadors we have, they are extremely supportive. We have a diverse range to promote exactly what we’re about and do.

Photo: Pedal Slip
What are your plans for the future?
  • Keep growing.
  • Keep getting our messages out there.
  • Reach and help more people.
  • Raise more money.
  • Help more non-profit projects and charities.
  • Do more TotalSurprises.
  • More social rides.
  • More TotalBuddies to help people around the country.
  • Try to help more small businesses and UK businesses.
  • Come up with more ideas of value for our community/followers.
  • More raffles, giveaways, surprises….. just spread more joy and good feelings.

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