Alex Cotton MBE, has today been awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Warwick.
Commenting on receiving the honour, she said: “The MBE was amazing but this is more personal, and it is a great honour to have an honour again!”
Alex Cotton is a mental health nurse of 25 years who founded It Takes Balls to Talk, Coventry and Warwickshire’s ground-breaking campaign to get men talking about mental health issues. The campaign was launched in 2016 and puts volunteers at major sporting fixtures in order to signpost the mainly male crowds to mental health services and support.
Alex was working in the crisis team when the idea for the campaign came about. She said: “We realised that mental health services need to take messages to where men are, because men aren’t coming to us.
“It was at a football match Boxing Day 2016, at Coventry. We trained volunteers to start up conversations: Would you know where to seek support if you ever felt down? Would you know where to seek support if a friend or a relative felt down? So it was increasing the access to mental health services and the other services in the third sector which can pick up people and support people so that they don’t have to come to us.”
Commenting on the fact that the campaign, which started in Coventry, has been picked up nationally, she said: “It is brilliant for Coventry and Warwickshire. We are looking at the real evidence that we are having an impact. We know that there has been an increase in referrals. People have come back and said because you were here I got support; because you were here I got my brother support.”
Many sports clubs and organisations in the region are engaging with the campaign. Alex said: “What is fabulous, and this may not have been so ten years ago, is that not one club has turned us away. People are embracing and encouraging and wanting people to speak out and looking for a method to do that.
“[Clubs are] right behind us and players – I have spoken to some six foot men who are speaking out because we are encouraging them, because they don’t want their mates to have to go through what they have gone through. It is OK to not be OK. Men are starting to understand that it is good to talk.”
Now Alex is moving the campaign onto the next level. Commenting on undertaking research with Warwick Medical School, she said: “I’m now working alongside Professor Paul Sutcliffe in the Medical School at Warwick to research how we can engage even more men with It Takes Balls to Talk.
“It’s making it more accessible and more language-friendly. What actual words and language links men to opening up? If we can research that, we are onto rocket fuel – we are into science that really can save lives.”