Participant Spotlight

The Mental Health Runner - Thomas Dunning

Non-Profit Supported - International Association for Suicide Prevention

Emily Walsack Emily Walsack
November 2019

We had the opportunity to speak to Thomas Dunning, aka “The Mental Health Runner”, participant on the International Association for Suicide Prevention’s virtual race. To say Tom is an inspiration is an understatement. This is his story of struggling with mental health disorders, but also of the power of physical fitness and its positive effect on the mind and body.

Thomas Dunning suffers from several mental health disorders and faces countless challenges on his path toward better health and overall wellbeing. Tom struggled to tell friends and family the negative thoughts and feelings he was facing on a daily basis. With a father that lived through war, Tom didn't think his internal challenges even compared to what his dad experienced overseas.

It was when his father put his arm around Tom and asked him what was wrong that Tom was able to accept that he needed help. With the courageous guidance of Tom, The Mental Health Runner, Charity Footprints was able to take a deeper look at mental health and the power of physical fitness. Tom joined 525 other participants to walk, bike, run for mental health and raise awareness for suicide prevention all over the world. Together, they’ve circumnavigated the globe, racking up more than 64,000 kilometers in total and fundraising nearly $10,000 USD.

Though Tom has been diagnosed with PTSD, Anxiety, and Borderline Personality Disorder, these conditions do not define him. Thomas Dunning is a survivor, a runner, an author, a husband, a son, a friend, a public speaker… an inspiration. Working as a mechanic, speaking at conferences across the UK, and exercising in between, Tom keeps busy. Despite his active schedule, Tom is constantly reminded that he must work hard at his recovery. When feeling a sense of panic, Tom shared a tactic he uses to get through the day. Tom gives himself a goal. He gave the example of walking 1,000 steps within the hour. If he doesn't accomplish the particular goal within the hour, he will try again in the next hour. If he achieves the goal, he comes up with another for the next hour. Either way, he gets through an hour at a time.

Setting goals is important in all aspects of life. They give us something to look forward to, something to feel good about accomplishing. After speaking with Tom, it became evident that mental health issues never go away. The recovery is challenging, but nothing is more worth it. After multiple suicide attempts and countless dark days, Tom strongly urges others suffering with mental illness to continue pushing forward.

“No matter how hard it gets, there is always a positive outcome.”

As Tom started running, he noticed different aspects of his life beginning to improve. With the Instagram handle, 'Mental Health Runner', Tom posts images relating his journey in order to help others in theirs. Tom is successfully publishing a book, has lost over 100lbs, married one of his biggest supporters, presented a TedTalk, and influenced the lives of hundreds of people.

IASP’s president, Dr Murad Khan, stresses the importance of exercise for those struggling with mental health, adding “The relationship between mental and physical health is indisputable. Physical exercise is probably one of the most underrated therapeutic measures in mental ill health. But it can be challenging to make yourself get on to the jogging track or on the treadmill when you are feeling down and lack motivation. However, if you are able to do that, the results can be quite astonishing. As the clinician, along with dietary and good sleep hygiene, I always include advise on regular physical exercise as part of their daily routine. I know it works. I practice it myself!”

Within the next several years, Tom hopes 'Mental Health Runner' will expand and give him the opportunity to speak at conferences outside of the UK. He wants people to know that mental health isn’t isolated to one tiny space. He wants people to know they are not alone and is honored to be the voice for others.

“For every 1 in 4 sufferers of a mental illness, there are always 3 others who can help save a life.”

Millions of people suffer from mental illness. Year after year, the number of those suffering increases. As Tom repeated throughout our conversation, no matter what someone is going through, they are not alone. There is always someone to speak to, someone willing to help. He begins and ends his speeches by stating, “For every 1 in 4 sufferers of a mental illness, there are always 3 others who can help save a life.”

The mental health stigma is one that prevents many from speaking about their struggles. As Tom speaks about his journey, he urges others to do the same with theirs. Together, we aim to bring awareness and attention to mental health and to continue trying to rid the negative stigma it holds. The weight of this heavy crisis sits in the hearts of many. Without speaking about it, there is no way to help those carrying the weight of this illness every day.

If you are struggling, know that you are not alone. If you know someone that is struggling, be their support system, be their light until they can see it on their own.

You can make a donation to International Association for Suicide Prevention and show your support for Thomas and a wonderful non-profit organization!

Ready to leave your footprints?

Talk to the team that has helped 1,000+ organizations such as yours run amazing virtual & hybrid races.