Rugby player and entrepreneur opens up on mental health as club joins charity See Me to tackle discrimination

Danny Campbell in action for GHK

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ONE of Scotland’s leading rugby clubs has entered a new charity partnership to shine a light on men’s mental health.

Scottish amateur side Glasgow High Kelvinside is working with See Me, Scotland’s national programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination.

To mark the new partnership, GHK star player Danny Campbell has opened up for the first time about his anxiety. The 31-year-old full back believes rugby has been vital for maintaining mental health. 

Danny, who has built his massively successful architecture business Hoko while playing amateur rugby and raising three young children, said that the sport offers more than just physical health benefits.

He has praised his GHK team-mates and colleagues for creating a progressive sporting environment when it comes to being able to open up about worries and anxiety.

Campbell has backed calls for more open-ness and less stigma when it comes to discussing men’s mental health.

He said: “My mental health has been a bit of a journey for me, all through High School I was a bit of an anxious person, without any logic to it, which is probably the basis for all anxiety. I knew it was rugby for me, it’s a pure release where I can express myself and don’t think about anything else.

“No matter how demanding things have been of my time, I’ve always gone to rugby training twice a week and played on a Saturday. It’s one of the things I don’t compromise on, and that’s really been the backbone of my sanity for a long time.”

Despite rugby’s image as a tough, physical game, Danny said that it’s becoming more and more about looking after each other through emotional challenges as much as sporting.

He added: “The rugby team has been a great support network for me, not just the other players, but the coaches as well. 

“They’re always supportive and want you to do well. I do lean on the guys. In my younger years I would go into the older guys and talk about work stress and times when I was anxious. 

“Nowadays I’m more of a senior player, I try to be more proactive and speak to the younger guys myself. I’ve been at a lot of different rugby clubs over my career, but GHK is a club where you can be open which is why I’ve felt so settled.

 “Rugby has been the saviour of my health, physically, emotionally and mentally. That’s why I’ve never given it up no matter what’s going on in my life and I feel very privileged to be able to do it.”

Danny has been particularly grateful for the support of his team-mates during the toughest period of his career, launching architecture disrupting firm HOKO in 2019 to massive success, creating 35 jobs in the process. The business, which is currently crowdfunding, is now valued at £15 million just two and a half years after launch. 

He recalled: “As the business has grown, pressure increased and increased and got to the point where I had a lot of wages to pay and big overheads. 

“At the moment I’m in a really strong place and feel I’ve coped with the pressure generally, but as the business has scaled it’s become quite demanding. We were hit by covid with investment put on ice for six months and other funding on hold. The pressure almost got to a point where it was laughable.

“I worked to combat stress and anxiety with control over my own body, like exercise and eating healthy and my advice for anyone who’s feeling down, depressed, stressed or anxious is look at the things you can control first.”

While coping with a booming business, Danny has also been coping with a serious illness in the family. 

He said: “It’s absolutely soul destroying, I used to pretty much cry every day on the way into work, it’s one of those things you have to find your own way around. It’s so difficult when it’s someone you’re so close to.  

“One of the things that really helped me was being really open with the team at HOKO and it’s a testament to building a culture of supporting each other, and having a strong family.”

Danny and his team-mates at GHK are proud to support mental health charity See Me, who work to combat stigma and prejudice surrounding mental health.

And as one of the club’s star players, Danny was first to share his own experiences surrounding the issue.

He said: “When See Me joined forces with GHK, as one of the older and more established players I saw it as an opportunity to say to people, ‘look, can we talk about this stuff?’

“Some people might see my life and think it’s all good, but there’s a lot of struggle and attrition needed, and the key thing is I’ve got coping mechanisms now.

“It’s very important to help shine a light on talking about things and that people need to find a way to do that.

“See Me is absolutely brilliant, it’s incredible and will make a huge difference to a lot of people who are very vulnerable. For people who are trying to project a macho image and anyone who’s anxious about showing their vulnerability, the moment you reveal that you become so much stronger. It makes you stronger to be vulnerable.”

Toni Groundwater, See Me programme manager for communities and priority groups, commented: “We hear phrases like ‘man up’ when it comes to struggling. But you can’t man up out of an illness, and it can make men feel like they can’t tell anyone, or they shouldn’t.

“Men are less likely to ask each other how they are feeling or chat about what they are going through. Men can find it really difficult to speak about how they are feeling. They are not encouraged to admit when they are struggling. It can be seen as a sign of weakness for men to speak about how they’re feeling. And men can see having feelings as a sign of weakness, which can lead to self-stigma.

“Being part of a sports club or a team can be a really great place to break down those barriers and old-fashioned opinions, allowing people to support each other. But the culture needs to be right so people feel able to speak out. 

“We’re working with Glasgow High Kelvinside Rugby Club to create this culture. This partnership seeks to raise awareness of mental health stigma and discrimination and its impact on people’s ability to speak openly and seek help when they need it.

“Through GHK and with the wider rugby community we aim to make real changes that can stop people struggling alone.  Role models like Danny are key to this, to share their story and show anyone can struggle.”

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