Black and white photo of Paul and his friend, Richard, smiling
Checking in, not checking upImage by: Paul Burgess
Black and white photo of Paul and his friend, Richard, smiling
6 October 2023

Checking in, not checking up

Sport in Mind Social Media Lead
Paul Burgess
4 minutes read time

We caught up with Paul Burgess, the social media lead for the mental health charity Sport in Mind, who shares how he got to where he is today and why he does it.

It started in the early 90s, when I learned how debilitating mental health problems can be. I had a panic attack. Except I didn’t know it was a panic attack. I thought it was a heart attack and I was going to die; all the signs were there, racing heart, shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and feeling spaced out.

" I realised the importance of asking how people were really feeling. "

I went to see my GP and he talked to me about anxiety and depression and prescribed some tablets. I didn’t want them. He then explained that the tablets were “a ladder to help you out of a big hole” and this made sense. Thank you Dr P.

My anxiety still pops up occasionally, but I recognise the signs and know what to do to keep it under control.

Fast forward to early January 2017 and a phone call from my best mate’s wife. A call that had a huge impact on my life – and many others’ lives – and set me on the path I’m on today.

Richard, my school mate, my best mate, my best man, had taken his own life. A punch to the gut.

Once the news sunk in, I knew I wanted to be able to help others. If I could help just one person experiencing mental health problems, then I’d be happy.

I spoke about it at work. I stood up on stage in front of 250 people and talked about Richard, and my own mental health problems. This started a conversation and led to me qualifying as a Mental Health First Aider.

The pandemic was another catalyst for me, to want to help. There was a lot on people’s minds; the isolation of lockdown and working from home, the uncertainty, the fear of illness and death. So, I made sure people were OK.

I created a WhatsApp group for some friends to keep in touch. I set up social meetings so that I could meet remotely with colleagues to chat about anything but work. I started posting more on LinkedIn and other social sites about how I was feeling and asking others how they were feeling.

I realised the importance of asking how people were really feeling. Asking twice. Checking in, not checking up.

I realised this is what I wanted to do. Connect with people. Help people. 

When redundancy came along at the end of 2020, I decided to share my story with individuals and organisations to help them help themselves or their employees. I enjoyed it, I was good at it!

Fast forward a couple of years and my career has taken another turn following a volunteering stint at a local museum (volunteering is also good for mental wellbeing). A chance conversation led to me being offered a job there, and another conversation led me to Sport in Mind, a fantastic charity that aims to improve the lives of people experiencing mental health problems through sport and physical activity. I love it.

The WhatsApp groups I set up during lockdown are still going. We still message every day. We all know the groups are a safe place to share how we’re feeling, with no judgment. We meet in person regularly too. 

Us men can be a bit rubbish at talking about things sometimes, but it’s so important. You can start the conversation with a buddy.

Special thanks to my three bestest buddies, the ‘Cornwall Crew’, who are always there if needed. You know who you are. Love you.

And thank you, Richard. Without you I might not have ended up where I am today.

Miss you mate x

Sport in Mind, has recently scaled up the number of men they help, thanks to the funds the Movember community has raised.


If you, or someone you know, is feeling low, don’t hesitate to reach out for support using these local support resources.

To speak with someone immediately, call The Samaritans on 116 123 or message the Shout text line on 85258.

If you’re ever worried that someone’s life is in immediate danger, call 999 or go directly to emergency services.

Starting conversations with men who are struggling may seem daunting. But getting them to open up can be easier with practice. Use our tool Movember Conversations for support.