Skateboarding and mental health

  Reading time 5 minutes

In 2019, the family and friends of British professional skateboarder Ben Raemers created the Ben Raemers Foundation to honor the memory of their friend and loved one. In May of that year, Ben Raemers took his own life at 28. One of the most well-known, respected, and talented skaters of his generation, adorning magazine covers, sponsored by top companies, and pushing skateboarding beyond what was imagined, he flowed between street and transition. His style, dedication, and humility took him across the pond to the U.S.

The Foundation webpage explains, “The devastation and loss of such a beautifully contagious human being rippled across the world. Through seeing the sadness left behind and the desire from the community to support an ongoing project, The Ben Raemers Foundation was formed. The overall aim of the foundation is to provide a way to maintain Ben’s legacy and help prevent anymore loss to suicide. Our aims are to enable the skateboarding community to have opportunities to develop the skills and tools needed to support each other to understand and address mental health. Suicide is a preventable death, so it’s something everyone can work together to do and save lives.”

Rob Mathieson, a close friend of Ben’s and a participant in the Foundation, shares, “I think skateboarding is a really social activity. Most people who skateboard have lots of friends who skateboard, I mean, all of my friends skateboard because that’s what I’ve grown up doing. And when I was growing up, I didn’t talk about those things with my friends at all.” One of the goals of the Foundation is to get more people talking about “those things.”

The BBC reported, “Before his death, [his sister] Lucy says Ben had been struggling with mental health problems. ‘He would ring me and say, “I’m suicidal”. He was drinking loads. He was up and down the whole time. He tried to get help but he didn’t want it and he just plummeted.’ Lucy says there is a problem specific to the sport. ‘Skateboarding involves a rock and roll lifestyle. You’re skating and you’re boozing. It’s all fun. But with skateboarding you have a lot of spare time on your hands so it’s easy to fall into a hole of addiction.” In this interview, his sister Lucy Raemers “talks about his prolific rise and the aftermath of his suicide.”

The Foundation approaches the issue of suicide from a holistic and community-based perspective. It is a clearinghouse for information and a hub for supporting people and organizations. From educational resources, training, and networking, to events, news, and links to support networks in more than 108 countries where people skateboard, the Foundation addresses an urgent social crisis.

In the SMiLe Film Series, “Professional skateboarders sit down with The Ben Raemers Foundation to speak openly and honestly about their own experiences with mental health. We hope these conversations can inspire and support people to open up about their own concerns.” Participants so far include Brian Andersen, Chris Pulman, Chris Jones, and Nick Herrington. Check out this Q&A after the debut screening of the SMiLe Film Series.

Vice News recently produced “Skating and Talking,” a film about Ben Reamers’ life: “In this film, friends and family reflect on Ben’s rise to US sponsorship, and the struggles that came later as his mental health deteriorated. His tragic death sparked a mental health reckoning within the skate community, with other pro-skaters now questioning their assumptions about mental health and sharing stories of their own.” This BBC podcast, “The Next Episode,” also focuses on Reamers’ life.

For an accessible overview of research from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Health on COVID-19 and mental health, click here.

Check out this episode of the podcast Vent City for a discussion with Ashley Rehfeld on mental health and skateboarding.

A small interview-based research study conducted in 2020 by the “Instinct Laboratory and Flo Skatepark” found:

“a striking correlation between people who skateboard and their improved mental health. Skateboarding is well known for its physical health benefits, but the recent study has shown that individuals who partake in skating stated they do so to reduce boredom, provide them with escapism, help them to build their confidence and use skateboarding as a coping mechanism for their emotions. Youngsters also attributed skateboarding to helping them feel a sense of achievement (when performing new tricks), learning and progressing when getting better on a board and feeling like they could be themselves when at a skatepark, surrounded by others with a similar outlook.”

If you are in crisis, call 800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. You can also text via crisistextline.org or by texting START to 741741 from anywhere in the United States.

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