Walk and Talk

Get close to nature to benefit your mental health

This week is ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ and May is also ‘National Walking Month’. At the Charlie Watkins Foundation, we know that walking benefits both mental and physical health and exercising in nature can have further advantages.

We know that research has shown that being able to connect with our natural environment is beneficial for our mental health. Looking back on 2020, people’s mental health was highly affected when lockdown measures were introduced, and we were confined to our homes and our immediate surrounding area.

Now that we are able to travel further afield, we can go and enjoy more outdoor spaces. We understand that this is easier to access for some but not for others. However, if you are able to get out of the house try and get to an outdoor space as close to nature as possible even if it is for a short while we encourage you to do so here we give some ideas for getting close to nature:

  • Even if it is only ten minutes here and there try and do some kind of outdoor activity each day.
  • If you need to go somewhere close by where you would usually take public transport or jump in a car, why not swap the shorter journeys for a walk?
  • Watch out for wildlife and listen to the great variety of sounds. It was widely reported that during the first lockdown many people heard bird song and insect humming for the first time in a long time just by taking the time to listen.  Many said it really helped to create a peaceful and calmer feeling.
  • Grow or pick your own food. If you don’t have a garden how about growing some herbs on a windowsill or in a window box?  Or perhaps buy a houseplant or two to decorate your home?
  • As restrictions lift further, you could help the environment by doing a litter pick, taking care to sanitise hands properly afterwards. There are also organised litter picks in local communities where you can go out with a group, which could be a good way to meet some other local people.

We also know that going for a walk with a friend or relative can have further benefits as it allows you to walk and talk. So, Saturday 3rd July 2021 we are planning our own ‘Walk and Talk’ event. This will be an opportunity to walk with family and friends to support the work of the Charlie Watkins Foundation. To find out more, or to organise your own ‘Walk and Talk’ event, please head to the event page on our website.

For more tips on connecting with nature to improve your mental health, go to the Mental Health Foundation website.

The Charlie Watkins Foundation strives to raise funding for vital projects to help young people across the UK who are facing serious mental health challenges.

With your help, we can continue our vital work and give support to young people who need our help the most. If you would like to help us to continue to make a difference, please consider making a donation.


Five ways to take control of your stress

Millions of people in the UK experience high levels of stress and it is damaging to not only our mental health, but our physical health too.

Stress has been linked to illnesses such as heart disease, insomnia and digestive problems, which just goes to show how important it is for us to recognise stress and combat the triggers.

Here we have put together a list of five ways that can help you can take control and reduce feelings of stress.

1. Talk about your stress

It is no secret that mental health can be very difficult to talk about; this is the same with stress. But if you do have someone trustworthy to talk to, it could help relieve any stressful feelings.

Alternatively, you could write down your thoughts and feelings in a diary which could help you keep track of any potential triggers.

2. Get active

Exercise can help clear your thoughts and reduce the amount of emotional intensity you feel. This should be something you enjoy doing such as going on a dog walk, swimming laps or playing football.

If you’re not sure how much exercise you need, take a look at the NHS guidance.

3. Breathe

Taking a moment to stop and breathe can do more good than you think!

To try this, make sure you are in a comfortable position, close your eyes and take a few deep breathes for five to ten minutes at a time.

4. Take a break

If you are finding yourself becoming stressed in a work or school environment, take a quick break.

Removing yourself from a stressful situation can allow you the time and space to think about your triggers and take the necessary precautions to help.

Taking a break could be as simple as walking around the block or watching that next episode on your Netflix list.

5. Be kind to yourself

Lastly (and most importantly), be kind to yourself. It is perfectly natural and normal to feel stressed. The world can be hard to navigate at times and everyone at some point in their lives will find themselves in a stressful situation.

The way you show kindness to others should be the way you show kindness to yourself. Think about how you would usually help a friend in need and do it for you instead.

Ideally this should be an activity that is for your enjoyment and makes you feel nurtured such as making your ideal meal or watching your favourite film.

Henry Ives, who will be running an ultra-marathon

“My mindset on mental health is so different now… and a big part of that is my exercise regime and lifestyle”

Henry Ives, the founder of online personal training platform H+ Performance, is running a 50km ultra-marathon across Dartmoor in aid of the Charlie Watkins Foundation. Here, Henry explains why he is doing this and how exercise has been a vital part of his life.

I became a personal trainer in 2013 after a bad skiing accident which put me in hospital for 10 days with a ruptured kidney.

This very much changed my outlook on life – it made me realise how we need to not be afraid to do what we want to do.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 halted plans for me to open up my own training studio in London, which meant 2020 was a very stressful year for me.

I turned to exercise and running during the pandemic, especially the lockdowns, as a way of release from the stress and nerves.

I have therefore challenged myself for 2021 to traverse the whole of Dartmoor in an ultra-distance event.

This is to not only test myself against the difficult terrain Dartmoor offers, but to also raise vital funds for a foundation close to my heart, the Charlie Watkins Foundation.

Charlie’s father and mine are cousins and I remember Charlie  fondly growing up with his brother, Harry.

I didn’t know Charlie was struggling with mental health issues to the extent he was when he was at university. I also struggled with depression and anxiety in my last year of university and, like him, I had always found it difficult to talk about it.

Back then I was so reluctant to seek help or talk to anyone because I was afraid about what they might think of me and I felt guilty for “burdening” people.

We need to change this narrative surrounding depression and anxiety, which is why I think the work that the Charlie Watkins Foundation is doing is so important.

My mindset on mental health is so different now from how it used to be and a big part of that is my exercise regime and lifestyle.

For me, exercise makes me feel great, which is why I do it. I’m a big believer that you should be using your body as much you can while you can!

Introducing regular exercise has so many benefits, including improving mental health and overall wellness.

So, why not buy some trainers, set aside some time and start jogging tomorrow? Who knows, maybe you’ll be joining me soon for an ultra-marathon too!


If you would like to support Henry in this challenge and help us to make a difference, please consider making a donation.

The Charlie Watkins Foundation strives to raise funding for vital projects to help young people across the UK who are facing serious mental health challenges. We are currently working with Student Minds on a vital assessment tool for universities and YES on a project supporting 11-16-year-olds.

If you would like to hold an event or fundraiser for the Charlie Watkins Foundation, please do this through our JustGiving page.

Healthy body, healthy mind

Five ways to keep a healthy mind

We all know the famous saying ‘healthy mind, healthy body’. Many believe it actually originated nearly 2,000 years ago from 1st century AD Roman poet Juvenal, who said ‘mens sana in corpore sano’, roughly translated as ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’. While these days we know the importance of eating well and looking after your physical health, how many of us ensure we’re looking after our mental health?

After all, if a 2,000-year-old saying can stand the test of time, it’s about time we ensure we’re keeping a healthy mind as well as a healthy body. That’s why we’ve put together five ways you can keep a healthy mind today and in the future.

1. Talk

We know it is hard to talk sometimes. You may feel ashamed or uneasy in sharing your thoughts and secrets with someone else. Talking can help you feel less alone and it’s a two-way street; you can talk about your feelings together.

Connections with other people is important and even if you cannot see anyone at the moment, a phone or video call can make all the difference.

2. Keep a mood diary

Keeping a diary of your moods helps to track what makes you feel better or worse in your day-to-day life. You can then be proactive and prepare yourself for situations that might make you feel worse.

You can create a diary yourself or make use of apps such as Daylio Journal on your phone.

3. Keep active

As we have mentioned, mental health and physical health go hand in hand, which is why you should also ensure you are keeping active too.

Why not try and take a short walk every day? Or you can work out from home by watching The Body Coach TV on YouTube.

4. Take a break

You should take time out of your day to do something you enjoy. This could be something as simple as taking a bubbly bath or watching your favourite TV programme.

Having a break from the real world and switching off for a bit can help rejuvenate your mind to ensure you are fresh-faced and ready to tackle the rest of the day.

5. Ask for help

If you find yourself struggling, ask for help. This is the hardest point on our list, but it is one of the most vital.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. We are all human who can sometimes get overwhelmed by our thoughts and feelings.

Your family and friends could help you with this or you could speak to your GP who can refer you to local services available to you.

Mental health brain

What can our brain tell us about mental health?

Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku once said “the human brain has 100 billion neurons, each connected to 10,000 other neurons. Sitting on your shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.” The brain is clever, confusing and most of all, extremely complex. Humanity still has a long way to go in understanding the full extent of the brain, but what do we know about its part in mental health?

There are plenty of disputes between various organisations and individuals about the part the human brain plays in mental health.

After all, the three pound organ in our heads has been compared numerous times to the universe in terms of complexity, with some scientists suggesting the cosmos and its galaxies are just like a giant human brain and its neuronal cells.

With this being the case, how much can we know about the influence the brain has on our mental health?

Racking our brains

What we do know, is that poor mental health has been linked to a variation in certain brain chemicals – namely serotonin, a hormone that stabilises our mood – but no one understands why.

Many of today’s antidepressant medication increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, making them an effective treatment for those with moderate to severe depression.

Researchers have also discovered that natural light can reach and affect the brain’s hypothalamus (a mood-regulating area), causing some people to develop seasonal affective disorder (SAD) during autumn and winter months where there is less sunlight.

It is thought that the hypothalamus stops working properly in those with SAD because of the lack of sunlight, which in turn can lead to a variation in brain chemicals.

Similarly, there’s evidence to suggest that genes play a big role in whether or not we develop challenges with our mental health; and many of our genes influence the development and function of our brain.

Rethink Mental Illness’ research into inherited mental illnesses suggests that there is a one in 100 chance of someone in the general population developing bipolar compared to a staggering 40 in 100 if both parents have the condition.

A no-brainer

In summary, we still have a lot to learn about the brain, but we cannot deny its impact on mental health.

Whether it’s chemicals imbalances or genes, we are learning every day just how important mental health is and why we need to ensure we are taking care of ourselves mentally.

This is why the Charlie Watkins Foundation strives to raise funding for vital projects to help young people across the UK who are facing serious mental health challenges.

We are funded by your generosity and your kind support is pivotal in allowing us to continue our vital work.  If you would like to help us to continue to make a difference, please consider making a donation.


COVID-19 pandemic: the negative impact on students’ mental health

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit hard in early March 2020, students have had to face a myriad of unprecedented challenges.

We know that even in normal times, up to one in three students experience clinical levels of psychological distress during their academic studies. This can lead to negative social outcomes, academic difficulties, and potential dropout.

Sadly, 52% of 4,193 respondents to a survey conducted by the National Union for Students in November said that their mental health had worsened since the start of the pandemic. Similarly, a polling of over 2,000 students by the Office for National Statistics in the same month found that students are more anxious than the general population.


Why is this happening?

There are many factors having a negative impact on student mental health during the pandemic. Many students are experiencing financial difficulties, expounded by the cost of rent for accommodation they are currently unable to return to.

Others do not have access to the digital equipment or working space required to complete their studies from home. Some students will be in unsafe living spaces and others are facing isolation, unable to meet their course mates face-to-face and to partake in the rich variety of extracurricular activities that make up the standard university experience.

Sadly, many students will have experienced bereavement over recent months too.

Certain groups of students have been particularly impacted, with a study by the University of Oxford and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine showing that BAME communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

Additionally, those who will soon be graduating and those who have graduated in the past year face an uncertain and competitive job market. Meanwhile, those who will be starting university in the few years have experienced significant disruption to their schooling and assessments.


How can we help?

One way we can help is by supporting institutions to ensure that both preventative measures are taken, and that appropriate support is available for all those who need it – this is more important now than ever.

To this end, we are working hard this year to find a way for students’ voices to be heard and for them to be empowered to talk about their struggles and moreover, to play a key role in implementing preventive measures within their institutions. We will have news for you on a new project we will be supporting to enable this to happen in early March.

Like many funding organisations, we look towards an uncertain future over the months and years ahead, as usual funding routes continue to be cut off. Your support would help us to overcome the uncertainties of this time and take our vital aid in this area forwards.

If you’d like to donate to the Charlie Watkins Foundation and help fund our upcoming projects, you can visit our JustGiving page.


Paws for thought this January

Take on a challenge this new year and use your daily exercise to take part in our ‘Paws for thought’ sponsorship challenge. January is #WalkYourDogMonth – so we are challenging you to take time out of your day to explore your local walking areas to see how many steps your furry friends can take while raising much-needed funds for the Charlie Watkins Foundation!

You can take part for just one day, or even get involved every day for the rest of the month to make the most of your one-hour daily exercise. Not only will you be raising money to support those suffering with mental health, but getting outside will also improve your own mental wellbeing.

You can use your own fitness tracker (such as your smart watch, a Fitbit, the Strava app or the iPhone Health app) to count your steps and then double it to track your dog’s progress.

The Charlie Watkins Foundation has been formed to receive funds in memory of Charlie Watkins who at 22-years-old, took his own life in March 2017.

One in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. However, it is still a taboo when it comes to talking about it and seeking help.

The crisis in mental health among young adults and the impact of the necessary restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic has seen an exponential growth in mental health issues; in particular, for young people and students across the country.

For those already struggling, COVID-19 has intensified these feelings and for those who have not previously experienced anxiety or depression, it has been a strange and very worrying time.

All this at a time when raising funds presents its own very real challenges and our support is needed more than ever.

Help your dog to become a Charlie Watkins Foundation fundraising hero and make sure you share your photos with us on Twitter and Facebook!

Don’t have a dog? You can still take part and be one of our fundraising heroes! Why not ask family and friends to sponsor your daily walk?


Please donate and share this link with your family and friends on social media and get them to sponsor your four-legged friends!


Our winter e-newsletter has landed

We’re thrilled to have sent out our most recent e-newsletter with some exciting new collaborations as well as celebrating our fundraising heroes.

Read the winter edition

The crisis in mental health among young adults and the impact of the necessary restrictions to control the virus has seen an exponential growth in mental health issues; in particular, for young people and students across the country. Online tuition combined with missing family and a loss of in-person social interaction has had a huge impact on their mental health and feelings of isolation. For those already struggling, COVID-19 intensified these feelings and for those who had not previously experienced anxiety or depression, it has been a strange and very worrying time. All this at a time when raising funds presents its own very real challenges and our support is needed more than ever.


To help to address the seriousness of the situation of the growing crisis in mental health among young adults, 2021 will see us build on lessons learnt and the success of our first initiative Chat with Charlie, to increase our support nationwide to grow the reach and impact of young adult mental health support services. We are also pleased to be supporting a new initiative for this year – an 18-month project run by the Colchester and Tendring Youth Enquiry Service (YES).

Subscribe to the Charlie Watkins Foundation newsletter


Online mental health support service expands

An online mental health support service for students has launched at a university college in Essex on World Mental Health Day (10 October).

Chat with Charlie, an online 1:1 platform which provides confidential support for students, will soon be live at Writtle University College in Chelmsford following its success at the University of Essex.

The service was launched at the University of Essex during Mental Health Awareness Week in May 2018 and was originally trialled for three days a week. However due to popularity and demand, Chat with Charlie extended to seven days a week, with students being able to log in and talk to a counsellor between 6pm and 10pm in the evening.

Chat with Charlie is funded by the Charlie Watkins Foundation, which was set up by Harry Watkins in memory of his twin brother, Essex-born Charlie Watkins. Charlie took his own life in March 2017 at the age of 22.

The service is delivered by Mid and North East Essex Mind at its Colchester office.

On the expansion, Harry Watkins said: “We are absolutely thrilled to see Chat with Charlie expand to Writtle University College. “Helping just one student would have made it all worth it – but to hear it’s helped many more is a phenomenal achievement. “We’re in conversation with other establishments across the UK about expanding even further. We’re so proud of this legacy we have created for Charlie.”

Professor Tim Middleton, Vice-Chancellor at Writtle University College said: “Chat with Charlie has been an excellent addition to the services we already have to support students. “We believe it’s a service that can benefit many universities and colleges and we’re incredibly proud to be the second establishment to take it forward.”

Chief Executive of Mid and North East Essex Mind, James McQuiggan, said: “We’re thrilled that Chat with Charlie has been such a success and we are immensely proud to be a part of the team behind it. “Being away from home for the first time can be particularly daunting for students and we hope this platform can provide some comfort while they are doing their studies. “We are pleased to bring this service to the students of Writtle University and hope to extend the service further in future.”

Donations to support the Chat with Charlie initiative can be made through Essex Community Foundation (ECF) which manages the Charlie Watkins Foundation.

Jo Macaulay, Head of Communications at ECF said: “We are pleased to work with the Watkins Family and in Charlie’s memory, help young people at a time when they may need extra support.”


Alesco DA host charity football tournament in aid of CWF

Given last year’s huge success, Alesco DA it will be hosting a charity football tournament again this year. The tournament will take place on Thursday, 17th October and everyone is encouraged to join in helping to beat last year’s total of £20,500.

Where: Powerleague Shoreditch – Braithwaite Street (Opposite Shoreditch Station), London, E1 6GJ

Date: Thursday 17th October 2019

Time: 12pm – 6pm

Dress code: Casual This year, teams will battle it out against each other on the football pitch to raise funds for the Charlie Watkins Foundation.

Come along to watch the teams fight it out for a place in the final while enjoying the bar and BBQ, which will be open from 1pm – late.

There is a 50p donation from every drink and BBQ you buy going towards the Charlie Watkins Foundation.

You could also be in with a chance of winning some great prizes if you enter the raffle, so make sure you bring some change! Register your attendance

Football teams Register to sign up your team Teams will need to pay an entry fee of £60 + VAT.

Alesco DA also request that each team donate a minimum of £300 payable along with the entry fee. Alesco DA will send you an invoice for both the entry fee and the charitable donation. For more information, please contact Chelsea Morrison