Soldiers are chaining themselves to a 3kg medicine ball for a week at a time to highlight the anxiety, stress and depression that some in the Armed Forces carry around with them as they cope with mental health issues.
The medicine ball represents the weight of burden people sometimes carry – often a hidden illness that some suffer in a form of trauma, with the outside world oblivious to their troubles.
WO1 David Lightfoot, Regimental Sergeant Major at the Cadet Training Centre, is among those who are taking part in the Medicine Ball Challenge this year, which follows on from previous years’ challenges, by carrying around a medicine ball with him everywhere he goes.
WO1 Lightfoot told BFBS Radio presenter Tim Humphries a little about the challenge and why he is taking part during a visit to the Forces Radio BFBS studios.
The Medicine Ball Challenge aims to raise awareness of mental health in a relay- based scheme, with each person taking part carrying the ball for a week at a time before passing it on.
WO1 Lightfoot picked up the heavy ball from Afghanistan veteran Sergeant Andy Unwin – who initiated the challenge and who has spent up to two weeks in previous years with the ball chained to his wrist.
Sgt Unwin, who served with the Yorkshire Regiment in Afghanistan, started the challenge after witnessing close comrades suffering with PTSD, including one tragic case of a soldier taking his own life as a result of mental health issues.
WO1 Lightfoot said: “I took over the challenge on Monday morning, from the guy who set it up, Andy, so it’s been going since then.
“It’s quite restrictive. It’s the smaller things in life, whether it’s making cups of tea, and it’s the keyboard and it’s other [tasks], tying your boot laces – you’ve just got to consider the medicine ball as you try and reach for something and all of a sudden you get pulled on the arm because it’s not long enough.”
He said the team are aiming to get six medicine balls on the go at a time in line with the project’s growing popularity – so that the balls get moved around the country to different people taking part.
Others are taking part in the project including soldiers from the Yorkshire Regiment and officers from the Yorkshire police forces but anyone can apply to carry the ball.
WO1 David Lightfoot said that, thanks to the support from his colleagues at the Cadet Training Centre in Frimley, Surrey, the initiative has already reached thousands of people, and has been shared across social media such as Facebook.
Sgt Unwin, commenting on his Virgin Money Giving fundraising page when he initially set up the project, said: “The medicine ball represents the weight, and burden service personnel and veterans carry around with them every day due to mental health problems.
"Many feel that they can’t talk because of the stigma surrounding mental health problems.
"Problems such as stress, anxiety, PTSD, and depression. Which have led to the number of Mental health related deaths of veterans and serving soldiers rise to an alarming rate.”
He added: “I cannot stress enough not all wounds are visible this simple ball could raise awareness and funds to help those in need of our help.
"Many service personnel and veterans carry these injuries around every single day.
"If you are struggling, please, please speak to someone be it a work colleague, a friend, even a stranger, just speak out and ask for help.”
A helpline to provide round-the-clock support to forces personnel dealing with mental health issues has been launched after funding by the Ministry of Defence.
Anyone who needs help, advice or support with mental health issues can call the Military Mental Health Helpline on 0800 323 4444.