Sunderland gym helps combat veterans' mental health problems with free memberships

A former Sunderland soldier who suffered PTSD says exercise has proved the key to him combating mental health problems.

By Katy Wheeler
Sunday, 19th January 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Monday, 20th January 2020, 9:47 am

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Mental health wellbeing through exercise at Fitness 2000 with client Chris Batty and PT Matty Watson
Mental health wellbeing through exercise at Fitness 2000 with client Chris Batty and PT Matty Watson

Chris Batty, 49, from Roker, did tours of Northern Ireland during his time serving with the 1st Battalion of the Light Infantry but, despite quitting 20 years ago, was left battling the scars of service.

The former lance corporal suffered PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and, not knowing where to turn, he used alcohol as a form of self-medication to cope with the trauma.

Over the years it led to a downward spiral of problems which affected all aspects of Chris’s life.

Mental health wellbeing through exercise at Fitness 2000 with client Chris Batty and PT Matty Watson

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Chris, who went on to work in private security in North Africa, explained: “After leaving the Forces I felt like I’d lost my routine and motivation and I began abusing alcohol badly.

“I felt like I needed something in my life to fill the void left by the Forces and alcohol did that. It became a form of self medication, but it really spiralled out of control. My self respect went out of the window and I had no moral compass, so I began losing everything.”

In November 2017, Chris says he reached “rock bottom” and found the courage to seek professional help. It set him on a path to beating the problems which had plagued him since becoming a veteran, and he says regular exercise became a key part of his recovery.

As well as entering into the care of the local mental health crisis team, he began to exercise regularly at Fitness2000 gym in Roker which offers free memberships to many of Sunderland’s veterans to help their well being.

Les Ojugbana, owner of Fitness2000 off Roker Avenue.

“I’d trained on and off here, but not with any routine,” he explained. “But by coming five/six times a week it really helped to fill the void in my life and give me focus. The fact they offer free passes for veterans here is an amazing thing. Because it’s a local gym there’s also a great sense of camaraderie, you can come it at 6am and the banter’s still good, even then.”

The gym has given out a number of free memberships to veterans helped by Sunderland-based group Veterans in Crisis and gym owner Les Ojugbana says it’s important to give something back to those who’ve served their country.

He explained: “As a gym, myself and all the staff at Fitness2000 are very mindful of the mind and we understand the benefits of training and keeping active and how it helps with our general health and, more importantly, mental health.

“So much so, we offer all Veterans in Crisis members free lifetime gym membership and we often, at random, offer members of the public who might suffer from similar issues an opportunity to pick up a free six-months gym pass to get them active and experience the benefits of training in a gym.

“In December we gave away 10 free six-month memberships to people who suffer from issues of depression or any mental illness and this is something we often do at random through our Facebook page on a first come, first served basis.”

*To read how Fitness2000 helped boost the mental health of a woman who divides her time between Australia and Sunderland see here.