SA man takes on Guinness World Record to shatter mental health stigma

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Running for mental health awareness.
Running for mental health awareness.
  • A South African businessman is concerned about the lack of awareness about mental health among men
  • To increase awareness about the problem he is embarking on a series of 133 half marathons
  • He urges people who  are feeling down, anxious or alone to contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)

Anxiety and mental health had long been a taboo subject for men. But in recent years, this has changed.

And this South African man is aiming to highlight the importance of seeking professional assistance and learning new coping mechanisms.

Henry Cock from Sandton is making waves as he embarks on his journey of 133 half marathons to break the Guinness World Record for the most half marathons run consecutively. But this is more than a race; this is a marathon journey to advocate for men’s mental health awareness.

Being diagnosed with anxiety himself, the 34-year-old Cock explains how easy it was for him to mask his anxiety attacks, but as the Covid-19 pandemic escalated and South Africa went into lockdown, he no longer had an escape; he had to face reality head-on.

'A whole bunch of techniques'

“It was easy enough to pretend things were okay before lockdown, but when people started losing their jobs and livelihood, it became more challenging.

"I went into my shell and just avoided everything. It was difficult. I would hear my phone ring and just start having anxiety attacks," he explains.

There was not much that Cock could do, except focus on the many cognitive behavioural therapy sessions he had with his therapist.

“My therapist taught me a whole bunch of techniques to manage tough situations. How to let go of problems beyond my control and not try and manage people’s reactions.

"With the cognitive behavioural therapy, I was able to try and manage my triggers and anxiety-induced circumstances. This helped me understand how I react and to try and control that," he explained.

Privileged to  have a therapist

Cock believes that there is a lack of awareness about mental health among men and felt he needed to do something, particularly for South African men.

“I just believe that it’s really not spoken about enough, nor understood well enough. If we can at least begin to understand the problem and start to address it, but the reality is that there aren’t nearly enough resources being allocated to this issue for us to fully understand it," he continued. 

He acknowledges that he's privileged to have a therapist when many other men don't have professional help. This is why it’s crucial for him to "make a noise" about the topic, he says.

“I am lucky and privileged that I can afford the help I can. But for 98% of people out there; they don’t have access to that sort of care.”  

The businessman is no expert, but with the help of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), he can further shine light and "raise the profile of mental health awareness”, he says.

Guinness World Record 

Cock – who acknowledges that he is no professional athlete – is currently actively training to complete the 133 consecutive half marathons over 133 days that will start on 8 July 2021. He’s expected to cover a distance of 2 800km from Kosi Bay, KwaZulu-Natal, to Vioolsdrift in Namibia.

To become the new record-holder, he will need to break the current record that stands at 75.

Advice

“If you are feeling down or anxious or alone, contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). They have volunteers countrywide that hold meetings, and forums, and zoom call discussions. They really do an amazing job.”

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