TV and Radio Presenter Phil Steele Talks Mental Health and “Working with Different Populations”

​07/11/2017

Popular Welsh rugby TV and radio personality, Phil Steele, visited Cardiff Metropolitan University to give first-year students an informative lecture about working with different populations and detailed his own experiences with mental health.

Phil, who is a Cardiff Met alumnus, gave students an honest talk about his own mental health experience and the importance of being more open about the subject, while also discussing working with different types of people and differential learning.

The lecture, which was held at Cardiff Met’s Cyncoed campus, was attended by over 150 first-year students from a range of different sport-related courses, and was organised by Cardiff Met lecturer and esteemed rugby referee, Dr Neil Hennessy.

Phil began the lecture with his talk on ‘Working with Different Populations’ where he discussed why it is important for people to understand that there are different types of people and that they can be taught in different ways.

Drawing from his own experience, first as a PE teacher and then as an SEN teacher, he explained: “There isn’t one type of person. We all come from different walks of life and there are many factors that differentiate us. These factors include age, culture and background, gender, ability and being differently abled. It is important to understand this because when it comes to coaching, and teaching, we must make changes to suit individual needs.

“To quote Ray Williams, ‘to teach Jonny maths, you have to know maths, but you have to know Jonny better’. This quote is very applicable to what I have to say. In short, knowledge isn’t everything. You could have the best knowledge on a subject, but if you don’t understand how the individual you are teaching thinks or works, then you might as well stop.”

One of the key points Phil kept coming back to throughout his lecture was the importance of understanding different educational and individual needs and how to deal with them. Here he made the link to mental health and touched upon his own battle with depression and anxiety. 

Talking about his own experience with mental health, Phil first asked the students, as a show of hands, if they would have thought he had a form of mental health issue. With no hands raised, Phil continued: “Mental health is a subject that isn’t talked about enough. Not many people realise that one in three people has, or has experienced, some form of mental health issue. For example, in the room of 150 students, it is possible that 50 to 70 will have or experience it. That’s a lot of people but no one really talks about it.”

Phil first experienced depression in 1984. He had a flourishing rugby career at the time, playing full-back for Newport RFC and was in the Wales ‘B’ Squad. He then suffered from an injury and had to pull out of the sport.

Phil recounts how he felt down for a period of time afterwards, he said: “A week after getting the injury I was feeling down and was suffering from psychosis on a regular basis. Then one morning, I just burst in to tears while on the phone with my wife and thought after that something wasn’t right. I was then diagnosed with depression and given medication.

“At that time medication wasn’t as good as it is today, and coming from a catholic background, my mother would tell me I didn’t need the medication. Why would I need it? I am Phil Steele, she would say, so I stopped taking it.”

As well as depression, Phil also suffered from anxiety and it wasn’t until a chance encounter some years later with a doctor at an event that he was put on a different medication and started feeling like himself again.

He continued: “Once I started being more open about my own mental health issues, things started to get better and I think that is an important point for students to understand that if they talk more about their own mental health issues with their peers, then their experience at University and in life will be better as well. 

“More people need to understand that while mental health illnesses are not as apparent as a physical illness, they are more common than people think and openness and acceptance are key.”

Speaking about the lecture, Dr Neil Hennessy said: “I am really glad that Phil was able to come to Cardiff Met and give the lecture to the first-year students. There is a good link between different populations and mental health, especially for students.

“All our students come from different backgrounds, and with them they bring different histories, and I think from this lecture, they need to understand that if they are having issues, then they need to talk to someone about them and understand how to deal and work with them.”

Phil Steele has written about his career in rugby and teaching, as well as his experience with mental health issues in his best-selling book, ‘Nerves of Steele’ published by St David’s Press and also available as an e-book.