Nigel Owens MBE shares his thoughts on the state of mental health and diversity with an optimistic viewpoint

"Mental health and diversity are two of my greatest passions, after rugby of course"

Nigel Owens MBE is the most capped referee in the history of rugby, a legend and hasta’s Ambassador for Mental Health and Diversity. On the back of Suicide Prevention Day, Nigel shares his thoughts on the state of mental health and diversity with an optimistic viewpoint.

Do you believe the “issue” of diversity within the British workforce is moving in the right direction or does much more need to be done?

“Mental health and diversity are two of my greatest passions, after rugby of course. Unlike rugby, mental health and diversity are not a game to be won in 80 minutes. Championing diversity and normalising mental health and diversity will take years to get it where we need it to be, perhaps even generations. More needs to be done, but we are definitely on the right track.

“There are some great conversations happening in a number of industries and this needs to continue for the right reasons. Many male-dominated sectors have been paving the way for change and doing it in a natural, gradual way. Having organic conversations from which change organically comes about, means that it will stick for the long term and not be a trend. We are in danger of mental health and diversity being used as a tick box exercise without any real purpose or any real impact. Diversity needs to be a central part of a company’s mission, and it needs to be genuine.”

Do you think the current British rugby community is open-minded to race, gender and sexual preference reforms, or is it still a bit of an “old boys club”?

“No, it’s no longer an “old boys club” and I believe there are far more openly gay players at the community level and beyond than ever before. The older generation is now, not only moving with the times but developing an understanding that sometimes superseded today’s players as seen by a French player only a week ago. In every sport, industry or community, you will always have a minority who are not accepting of a certain race, religion or sexuality. It’s a reality of life; we need to continue to educate, spread tolerance and not pit generations against each other.”

You are a role model for people who are struggling with their mental health. Would you have any top tips for people struggling with emotional and mental health issues in the current climate? 

“Accept you are struggling and identify the problem – then you can move on to the next stage of finding a solution. The most important thing you can do is identify what the problem is, not necessarily the trigger as that can take some work. Recognising a problem allows you to find the solution. To be able to deal with mental health issues, no matter how big or small, you need to be committed to making a change and seeking help. Help can take many forms – from speaking to family and friends to visiting a medical professional, you should see what works for you and keep going until you find a formula that works.

“Never underestimate the power of doing things that make you happy. The smallest things such as going for a small walk or cooking a favourite meal can have a dramatic effect on your wellbeing. In the same vein, stop anything that isn’t making you happy. Even if it’s something that seems very frightening to forgo like your place of work. You need to remember that it’s not worth your mental health. You are your number one priority.”

If you could change the laws around mental health, what would you reform and how would you change them?

“Despite us having more and more of the right conversations, we need to continue raising awareness and treating mental health with the same gravitas as we do physical illnesses. The invisible needs to be made visible and be at the forefront of any funding plans and budgets. It would be great to see services receive more vital funding so that wait times are reduced. Encourage more people to become mental health practitioners and experts is also crucial if we’re going to overcome these challenges.”

Nigel Owen MBE is hosting the Sporting Lunch at The Langham hotel on 13th October.