• Annie Bocock

In Digital Discussion With: Thomas Dunning

Thomas Dunning’s mental health has left him at a halt time and time again, now he can’t run out of steam...

Thomas joined the TEDxBrayfordPool stage in November 2018, at our Youth event, talking about his experiences with mental health difficulties and recovery. He’s now a passionate mental health advocate, having words in HuffPost, almost every regional paper under the sun and ITV. He’s known as the Mental Health Runner, a campaign and brand he’s been running for several years and he’s a NHS Service User Governor. Finally, if you thought he couldn’t get any more awesome, he wrote a book with his wife, Amber Dunning: Surviving the War Against Yourself!

Having not seen him since lockdown started I’m pleased to be on this imaginary (read: not real) jog with him.

“Hello Tom, who are you?”

“Hi there! My name is Thomas Dunning and I’m also known as the “Mental Health Runner”. I run the website www.mentalhealthrunner.co.uk and Instagram @mental_health_runner which are the platforms which I share my vast quantity of stories around my mental health – from psychosis, attempted suicide, recovery and EVERYTHING in between. It's my platform to help show not just one person, but the world that mental health is a very real thing, but most importantly is not anything to be ashamed of.

Discovering running greatly improved my mental health! Its life changing power made me feel like it was something I HAD to pursue and help others who may have been in my position to get the help they need before it gets too late.

I survived my psychosis and my attempted suicides but not everyone is lucky enough to do so. I want to do my bit to help facilitate others to get the help they need before it gets too late."

"Nice! What inspired you to give a TEDx talk?"

"I wanted to inspire change in society. I found that running of all things had massively changed my life and that mental health itself is as common as 1 in 4 people suffering with a mental illness – so why do we have so much stigma attached to something which is that common?

I know my story isn’t special, it's unique in the sense that everyone with a mental health problem has their own unique journey to recovery, there is no right or wrong way to really recover; but if my story helps to facilitate that and what I did helps someone else, then that’s all I really want. For every 1 in 4 people who suffer with mental ill health, there is always three others who can help save a life."

“What was it about running in particular that stuck with you and became your brand almost?”

“For me it was a pure fluke that I fell in love with running. The effects of how it benefits my physical and mental health were incredible and I found myself running to help my mental health more than it meant to be physically fit – it just so happens for me that that was the byproduct of looking after my mental health!

After I had somewhat recovered from my mental illness, I wanted to share with the world that it’s a simple activity that anyone can do and I mean to benefit their mental health.”

“That’s relatable! I started running in lockdown and now I love it! How did you and your wife, Amber Dunning, find yourselves writing a book? Tell me the story and process behind that.”

“After my recovery and 'mental health runner' had really started up, I felt like although I was telling my story it wasn’t really my story fully; but in fact it's both mine and Amber's. Mental health isn’t just about the sufferer of the condition, it's all those people in the background too. I felt like the sufferers side of the story is told so much and although that is great that we're talking more and more openly about it – the carers side is somewhat of a thankless role and often forgotten about.

With that in mind, I really couldn’t write a book about the entirety of my journey and things which I already talk about in the blog, but I wanted to create a book akin to one I remember reading in school called “Stone Cold” where its two stories but the same narrative. How two peoples lives are entirely different but their story eventually concludes with them merging.

Amber thankfully agreed and we got onto writing the book! Not bad for a lad who was so horrendously bullied he failed his English GCSE first time around!”

“What’s your biggest accomplishment to date - personally and professionally?”

“Personally my biggest accomplishment is that of still being here. I think that the story could be incredibly different and it is pure luck that I'm able to right now be able to answer your questions and not be part of a horrifying statistic.

Professionally, I would have to say TEDx. Having presented my story through the TEDx platform I was able to start my public speaking career and travel the UK and present my story. Most recently I've been able to present to NAMI (National Alliance of Mental Illness) Bucks County in the USA. To now be an international speaker it's just, wow. Out-of-this-world incredible!”

”Okay quick fire! Three words to sum up the TEDx experience?”

“Proud – Honoured - empowered.”

“Favourite TEDx Talk?”

“I was introduced to TED talks when I was in recovery but there are two which stick out in my mind in the realms of TEDx and TED.

The voices in my head | Eleanor Longden really stood out as it was a talk which helped to normalise my conditions and help facilitate me to recovery.

The TEDx talk which sticks out most prominently is Find your voice for social change | Owen Lewis | TEDxYouth@BrayfordPool (side note: we’ve interviewed them here) and that has quite simply been life changing. In fact one of the main things they touched on is 'Leaving a hand-print on everything you do' and that’s quite simply, a life goal of mine now.”

“Favourite book?”

“I don’t normally read to be honest with you, but I have grown up with comic books both in the worlds of Marvel and DC. I think the stories of superheroes who have ‘realistic’ powers helped to inadvertently develop me to who I am today. The story of Batman and Iron man for example – no powers which are superhuman but have the smarts to help create things to help save peoples lives, so why is that any different to what I’m trying to do now?

Going around the UK and in the future, the world to help change peoples lives in mental health.”

“On a more topical note, what have you been binge-watching currently?”

“To be honest me and Amber have both been going down memory lane, we’ve watched about five series of Dog the Bounty Hunter and currently on season 3 of the Office (US).

Most importantly though, I've been re-watching RuPaul’s Drag Race! I absolutely love Drag Race!”

"Thanks Tom!" I exclaim as I break off away from him, running down a different path. He doesn’t respond as this isn’t a real-life interview.

You can watch Thomas Dunning's talk here.



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