Having overcome multiple suicide attempts, a father of two who turned his life around is now bringing a national charity to Manchester providing a lifeline to those facing similar mental health struggles.
Six years ago, without any funding, premises, team or formal education in the field, Manuel Benages, the founder of Athletic Minds Foundation, embarked on a mission to provide crucial mental health support to as many people as possible.
His plan to bring Athletic Minds Foundation to Manchester is being unveiled on this year’s ‘Blue Monday’ as a positive response to the prevailing notion of it being the most depressing day of the year.
The charity’s origins are deeply intertwined with Manuel’s personal journey, marked by profound hardships and challenges.
Originally from Halifax, West Yorkshire, the 43 -year-old who is now based in Manchester, previously experienced severe depression due to many factors including the suicide of a close friend, abandonment and neglect, and being abused within foster and care homes.
Coping strategies such as alcohol and drugs only intensified his struggles, leading to a mental breakdown and his own attempted suicides as a means of escape before a transformative moment emerged from his darkest despair.
“I was in a very bad place. I lost a very close friend to suicide closely followed by the tragic death of my brother, which sent me into a downwards spiral,” said Manuel. “I then lost my mother due to an alcohol induced brain haemorrhage.
“It was a tough road, but somehow, I managed to find a way back. I made the decision to quit everything that was bad for me.
“I realised the first step was being honest with myself, which turned out to be the most challenging part because it forced me to make the necessary changes I simply had to make.
“My personal journey took me from darkness to light – and that’s where my inspiration for the charity originated – a simple desire to assist others.
“I didn’t have a lot of support in my darkest moments, so by packaging the lessons I’ve learned and what worked for me, I’ve been able to support so many others dealing with their own struggles.
“Our launch in Manchester is a monumental moment. As a major urban centre, Manchester faces massive mental health challenges through social and financial deprivation causing loneliness and helplessness. We aspire to reach as many individuals as possible so that nobody has to suffer in silence.”
The Athletic Minds Foundation, formerly known as GetFit4MentalWellness, originally started in Calderdale in 2018, before recently rebranding to mark a new chapter in its expansion. Manchester will be the charity’s second hub, the first being in Sowerby Bridge, with a third to be announced in the very near future.
The charity has supported nearly 100,000 individuals, empowering them to lead healthier, happier lives.
Among the programmes that will be offered at the Manchester hub will include a unique 8-week mental wellness course, physical fitness activities, holistic classes, mental health workshops, suicide prevention and intervention, coping with loss and grief, a community wellness hub, free counselling and online support.
The hub will be based in a dedicated space in the city providing a safe haven for those battling mental health issues.
Manuel added: “I can’t express how much I’m looking forward to seeing the Manchester hub come to life. This is not just a physical space; it’s a manifestation of our collective efforts to bring positive change to those who need it the most.
“In the heart of Manchester, we’ve planted a seed of hope and assistance. The hub is a testament to our dedication to help the diverse and vibrant community of Manchester thrive mentally and emotionally.
“While my goal is to help others, the journey of building this charity has also been instrumental in my own personal healing. It’s a reciprocal process where the more I give to the community, the more I find strength and purpose in my own battles.
“We plan to replicate our hubs all over the UK. This is just the beginning.”