From blog to business – Red Balloons #ActivistsforAction

Teesside peer support group Red Balloons highlights the need for the combination of physical and mental health to make the world a happier place, as part of the #ActivistsForAction series.

Claire Coulthard, 34, discovered through counselling how much of an impact exercise had on her recovery. As a result of this lifestyle change, Claire set up her own mental health peer support group called “Red Balloons”.

After finding little support for mental health in her hometown of Teesside, Claire found that factors such as deprivation, obesity and unemployment made it more difficult for people to find access to health services.

Q & A with Claire:

Where did the name Red Balloons originate from?

Claire: The colour red was used to represent and promote the ‘Run Every Day January’ community who have been amazing and a vital local support since 2017. It coincidentally is also my favourite colour.

The balloon inspiration came from an analogy I discussed with my counsellor. They represent that different aspects of my life are in separate balloons. When I am in a ‘good’ mental health state, I walk ‘quite’ happily with my big bunch of balloons. However, if my mental health spirals, I lose grip of the balloons and to get back to a good place, I have to chase after them.

Red Balloons is the perfect place for people to share their experiences and discuss what they want to achieve, whether it be mentally or through physical exercise.

Red Balloons logo | Photo credit: Claire Coulthard.

What does your peer support service offer?

Claire: Red Balloons features themed online posts, such as: Monday motivations, Talking Tuesdays, Fitness Fridays and Self-care Sundays. We offer mental health friendly personal training and ‘one on one’ sessions for people who don’t have the confidence to go to a gym.

Claire set up ‘Walk and Talk’ groups and also runs every Monday as part of her #MondayMotivation | Photo credit: Claire Coulthard.

Where did the passion for starting ‘Red Balloons’ come from?

Claire: When I tried to take my own life, I was in a place where I genuinely believed everyone would be better off without me. I only lived for my children. I needed a reason to live for me. As a parent you feel selfish taking an hour out for yourself. Running meant that I had time for myself.

Running helped me to lose weight, be healthier and it gave me some ‘me time’. My journey spans from not being able to run a mile to running the London marathon in April 2019.

Claire also recycles unwanted donated sportswear as part of her campaign. She found that the cost of gym wear could be a barrier to exercise on a regular basis. | Photo credit: Claire Coulthard.

Claire has first hand experience of mental health stigma. The older generation seem to shy away from talking about it and says:

“We do have older members who talk anonymously because they don’t want anyone to know that they suffer.

“Talking needs to be from all areas: older, younger, children and ethnic communities. It needs to be discussed as much as cancer and diabetes, because it is an illness that is hard to recover from”.

Claire Coulthard, founder of Red Balloons.

Claire is studying psychology at Teesside University and strongly believes that the government need to encourage mental health first aiders in every GP surgery and stresses there needs to be more support for smaller organisations. Claire strongly believes that:

“Mental health is not a 9 to 5 Monday-Friday illness, it is constant. People need something they can access any time.

“Funding needs to be put into other areas, such as crisis teams and referral systems. Statistics released would show the government where money needs to be spent. The government needs to look at their current ten-year plans; their ideology is not going to work for the people of tomorrow”.

Claire Coulthard, founder of Red Balloons:

In these two clips, Claire talks about how she felt before and after she ran the London marathon. She completed the race in 5 hours, 35 mins and 8 seconds last Sunday.

Photo and video credit: Claire Coulthard.

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