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April-May 2020 | Features

“I’ll always get up, it’s the only way I know”

“I’ll always get up, it’s the only way I know”

Former world champion boxer, Frank Bruno, knows all about the school of hard knocks, and picking yourself off the canvas. Here, Frank talks about one of the biggest battles he has had to conquer – his own mental health.

Frank Bruno – boxing world champion, national treasure and a mental health ambassador. Here is a man who has ridden life’s rollercoaster.

Frank grew up with five brothers and sisters in a terrace house in south London where he began boxing from the age of nine at the local Wandsworth Boys’ Club. Later, he learned to box seriously while attending Oak Hall School in Heathfield, East Sussex, an establishment for ‘problem’ children.

But boxing was definitely Frank’s calling. The discipline of sport kept Frank on the straight and narrow, as he won all of his fights as a young amateur heavyweight, before turning professional and very quickly becoming European champion.

Soon, Frank with his charming manner, hearty laugh, and neat turn of phrase, became a television celebrity with appearances on ‘Wogan’, ‘This Is Your Life’, the ‘Royal Variety Show’, a host of quiz programmes, TV adverts, and even pantomime.

His catchphrase “Know what I mean ‘Arry?” – in reference to the legendary BBC boxing commentator, Harry Carpenter, was mimicked by many and became part of the Frank Bruno legend.

frank bruno

Boxing was definitely Frank’s calling. The discipline of sport kept Frank on the straight and narrow, as he won all of his fights as a young amateur heavyweight, before turning professional and very quickly becoming European champion. © Getty Images

In a 14-year professional boxing career, which saw Frank win 40 of his 45 fights, the 6ft 3in heavyweight scaled the summit in September 1995 when he defeated Oliver McCall at Wembley Stadium to be crowned WBC world champion.

But within eight years, Frank was facing a fight of a totally different complexity, where the opponent was not standing in the ring in front of him. Instead, this opponent was in his head.

In 2003, then aged 42, he suffered the first of three mental breakdowns after his marriage to Laura Mooney broke down.

Frank Bruno – boxing world champion, national treasure and a mental health ambassador. Here is a man who has ridden life’s rollercoaster.”

Two further episodes followed in 2012 and 2014, when he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983.

Following his last section, Frank became very vocal about the treatment he received and decided to speak out for the thousands who suffer in silence, either as a patient or a carer.

In his 2017 autobiography entitled “Let’s Be Frank”, the loveable world champion boxer described mental health as “undoubtedly the biggest battle I’ve ever had to win”.

The book is a deeply personal story, when Frank talks about his battle with mental illness, his time inside a mental facility, the impact his illness has had on his family and his career – and his long road back to stability.

It offers a raw perspective of living with bipolar disorder. In the book, Frank writes: “Ever since I retired, one thing has stood between me and being the man I want to be. My mind.

https://twitter.com/FrankBrunoFound/status/1230388391411363843

“In the end it saw me locked up against my will and pumped full of so many drugs I didn’t have the strength to stand.

“When I am in the grip of my mental disorder and the drugs are pickling my brain, I am unable to stand up, the drugs literally and, excuse the pun, `knock me out.’ But I will always get back up. It is the only way I know.”

Frank is now seen as a mental health campaigner, advising large organisations, and Government agencies who use Frank’s advice and experience to improve mental health treatment in the UK.

Now, the boxing legend who says he does not want others to suffer like he did, is opening up his own mental health centre in Northamptonshire.

Through The Frank Bruno Foundation, he has obtained premises to create a new treatment centre, which he hopes to open in a few months’ time.

 


FACTFILE: Frank Bruno

  • Born: Wandsworth, November 1961.
  • Boxing record: 45 fights – 40 wins (38 by knockout), 5 losses.
  • British and European heavyweight champion & WBC world champion.
  • Awarded MBE in 1990.
  • Father of 4 children, and grandfather to two children.

 

Frank explained: “Rome wasn’t built in a day and it’s been a long journey so far, with lots of red tape.

“What we are doing is quite different from the normal treatment of giving a patient some drugs, telling them to take them and come back for more in a few weeks.”

Following his own painful experience, Frank said the dedicated centre will provide a safe environment to those facing and recovering from mental ill health symptoms.

They will be delivering well-being sessions, alongside non-contact boxing workouts, bringing together healthy bodies and healthy minds.

“Our programme will help to bridge the gap between the services available and those which are needed,” he added.

“And our vision will help raise both public awareness and understanding of mental ill health, and to break and knockout the stigma attached to this.”

Following his own painful experience, Frank said the dedicated centre will provide a safe environment to those facing and recovering from mental ill health symptoms.

Frank was last sectioned in 2014 when he recalls how he was “pumped full of drugs and left like a zombie”.

During that and the previous times when Frank was an in-patient, he was unhappy with the treatment he and those around him received; particularly the inappropriate use of mind-altering medication which prevented his ability to function.

Whilst detained, Frank expressed a desire to use the on-site gym to exercise, this request was generally refused. Frank considers that his inability to exercise was detrimental to his recovery.

He has been medication-free since 2016 and never felt better, thanks to exercise, healthy living and mindfulness. These are the tonics which his centre at Standens Barn in Northampton, will offer.

He said: “What we’re going to do isn’t rocket science, but it will be life-changing.”


For more information, visit the Frank Bruno Foundation website.

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