Chamber’s Chair of the Board David Bellin & guest speaker Paul Highton

Mental Fitness – How it might impact on you?

At September Breakfast Matters the Chamber’s Chair of the Board David Bellin welcomed guest speaker Paul Highton from the Red Devils Foundation, a mental fitness programme from the Rugby League Cares State of Mind charity.

The seminar was very powerful and emotive in terms of how mental health can affect you and those around you. Paul was a professional rugby player who shared his own personal experience with mental health and how he is now supporting others through similar issues, demonstrating there is light at the end of the tunnel.


Read on to hear extracts from Pauls’ story…

Paul was a Professional rugby player for 20 years in the super league, he was sold to Salford and represented Wales as his home nation playing in 2 world cups and 3 European cups. Paul had some massive highs and very low lows, he didn’t deal with each extreme very well. Coping strategies weren’t good and are now a big part of Paul’s role is to support the players off field and give them all the things he didn’t have during his career. He’d seen players who were household names and at the end were in a circle of depression and drink and lost their family and home.

Paul didn’t want the same, so he went back to university and focused on building a business, but then became ill and ended being at home for 3 months and during this time Paul started to question his place in life and what this was. His personal profile had changed as he was no longer playing rugby professionally, being invited to do radio interviews etc… He was now just Paul who used to play rugby.

Following a number of operations Paul was sent home with morphine sulphate, which didn’t agree with him, then went onto tramadol. At this time Paul was going through a divorce and bringing up his two kids who lived with him, in addition he was focusing on finishing his degree and he found tramadol became his best friend.


Paul Highton from the Red Devils FoundationThis was the beginning of his downfall as the tablets taken daily increased and reached upwards of 30 a day for 3 years and Paul didn’t see himself as doing anything wrong, as he was getting the tablets legally from his own doctor and the club doctor. But once he felt he wasn’t able to get enough he began to buy them directly from the internet to ensure he had enough. Paul suffered more personal loss with a relationship breakdown and moved to a remote area, he gained an extra 5 stone and isolated himself, the drinking and drug taking went through the roof and he couldn’t see a way out, he felt he was letting everyone down and not turning up to things he’d been invited to.

Suicide then became an option, one Friday he planned out his suicide in the basement of his house. He decided to watch a last game of super league, whilst drinking a bottle of wine to take the edge off the nerves, thankfully he fell asleep and woke in the early hours to see what he had planned!

Shocked by and upset by his earlier thoughts, this was the turning point and Paul realised he needed to get help.

He reached out to a charity called Sporting Chance and within 12 hours found himself sat in a Leeds hotel talking through how he felt with Tony Adams the founder of The Sporting Chance.

Paul was able to start taking the masks off and not pretend to be an aggressive win at all costs man anymore.

The Sporting Chance Clinic is a registered British based charity, first set up by former Arsenal and England football captain Tony Adams to provide a specialist addiction and recovery facility for athletes. –

Now Paul is giving back delivering the Mindfulness programme with the Red Devils Foundation, giving players today a chance to speak in a non-judgemental way, in a safe environment, as well as working with employees in large companies.

The programme is delivered by ex-professionals, referees and health professionals. Paul has a target of people to support to get access to more funding to support all clubs across the country.

How the Mindfulness programme works:

  • Understand how you can use things like Mindfulness to manage emotions and anger management
  • Use sport as an analogy by swapping mental health for physical health (the sessions are split in two halves, with a mix of classroom and physical activity).


  • To raise the awareness of:
  • What is mental fitness?
  • How to recognise poor mental fitness
  • Who uses it?
  • How to challenge negative thinking

Use sporting analogies to normalise the sports man, mental health is not selective and doesn’t discriminate, it can affect anyone, including those that the outside world would feel live in a perfect bubble.

How to challenge negative thinking:

  • Understand your situation
  • What do you think?
  • How much you believe the thought – start wrapping a story around it
  • How it makes you feel, with evidence for and against
  • You may want to start monitoring whether you are thinking negatively or positively
  • Learn to control the controllable


“It is not a case of scratching an itch and then going, it is the ongoing aftercare”

State of mind work with businesses and prisoners along with fellow sportsman.


“We all have coping techniques, it is whether or not you have constructive or destructive methods?”


Business card draw winners:

A warm Chamber welcome to our newest member - Mike Donavon, CFM.

A warm Chamber welcome to our newest member – Mike Donavon, CFM

Please feel free to send any news items to Anne for the newsletter, maybe you would like to sponsor a newsletter for November/December – just one slot left on a first come first served basis.

Please contact Anne directly

Upcoming events:
Dates for your Diary: –

Sep 14th
Chamber Breakfast – Airport City Update
Venue – Sale FC Rugby Club

Oct 04th
Breakfast Matters – October 2018
Venue – Cresta Court Hotel

Oct 11th
Business Awards 2018
Venue – Cresta Court Hotel


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