“When you’re comfortable in your own skin, it does have an effect on your esteem and confidence” admits Kevin Russell. Russell is an online personal trainer, advocate of a healthy lifestyle and a Masters student at NUI Galway. He offers nutritional advice, workout plans and is a fitness enthusiast but he suffered from mental health issues when he was younger. So now, when he sees his clients’ results and the changes in them, it comes with a great deal of pride. “To be honest, that’s what I love most about it. They are so happy with how they’ve progressed physically but it’s a mental thing as well.”
A quick scroll of his Facebook page, which boasts 8,500 likes, truly demonstrates his work ethic. Weight loss story after weight loss story, Russell has become a transformation guru as clients confide in his ability to help them become more positive in their lives. Fitness is much more than just looking good and while exercise does play a huge part in the lives of many affected by mental health issues, Russell feels that it is not to be solely relied on.
“I used the gym as a release, it was the only time when I could switch off and be in a world that I was comfortable in” he explains but feels that staying fit and healthy is only a small part of the answer. Talking about your problems is the real solution, and Russell takes this advice to new levels by guest speaking – most recently at DCU and GMIT.
Mental health is an issue which affects everyone at a certain stage of their lives. It can be a personal experience, the feelings of a close friend or the thoughts of a loved one but it is a universal issue.
Minister of State for Primary Care, Mental Health and Disability, Kathleen Lynch declared that “we, as a society, have a collective duty to foster a culture whereby all those in difficulty, and young people in particular, do not hesitate to seek help when needed. We should, for example, be alert to the signs and signals of distress, promote good coping skills, embrace difference and exclude stigma.”
In his hometown of Galway, Russell is spearheading the movement to change people’s perceptions of mental health and become more accepting of the challenges facing people who suffer from mental illnesses on a daily basis.
As a former sufferer of anxiety, many would consider his step up to the podium, a step too far, but Russell’s passion to remove the shame attached to depression, anxiety and mental health is beyond extraordinary.
At these events, Russell speaks about his experiences with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and meditation and he was also accompanied by Bressie. Best known as a judge on the Voice of Ireland, Bressie takes a unique approach to the subject and gave his depression a name – Jeffrey.
Bressie felt that by naming his oppressor, he could finally talk to it and rather than isolated feelings sprouting anonymously in his head, he now had someone to blame. Jeffrey has become a cult figure in mental health and a source of laughter and happiness, as he was once a negative entity but now represents a positive of learning how to deal with your thoughts.
Happiness is a key motivator in quelling oppressive thoughts.
One in five Irish adults aged 19-24 suffer from mental health issues and large numbers abuse addictive substances in order to find happiness. Russell, like so many others, appreciates the addictive qualities which fitness offers.
“It’s an addiction because you get the release of endorphins and you feel fantastic.”
These endorphins are released in response to pain and stress and while alleviating negative energy, they also trigger a positive feeling in the body. This feeling then becomes associated with happiness and in time, it becomes the biggest motivator according to Russell because it is an experience people want again.
This euphoric state comes with no negative side effects however, just abs of steel and 17 inch arms. Russell was the 2014 NBFI (National Bodybuilding Federation of Ireland) champion. He finished in second place a year earlier but his determination to step up to the podium as number one was a quest which gained him much respect in the industry.
In February 2015, Kevin Russell Fitness adopted YouTube as a home. With over 300 subscribers, almost 13,000 channel views and a “if you dream it, you can do it” motto, it is easy to understand why Russell is a much adorned figure.
In the beginning, he had second thoughts about the venture but then realised that the only obstacle was himself. “The fear of what people thought of me was what held me back” he confesses, only to explain that he has received nothing but support.
Rob Lipsett, another Irish fitness YouTuber, once claimed that the only way to become successful was “to do things that will get people to talk about you” and this applies to Russell in every sense.
By speaking about his mental health, he has given many people the belief and courage that all is not lost. By creating a YouTube channel, he has shown that anxiety can be overcome and when you find solace within yourself, anything is possible. But by not giving up, and not letting his problems prevent him from succeeding will definitely represent his most honourable achievement.