With around one in six women experiencing depression in their lifetime, and one in three women experiencing anxiety, the mental health of women is a growing concern.

In 2020-21, compared to men, women were more likely to experience high or very high levels of psychological distress, higher levels of PTSD, and eating disorders. Add to this, the ABS figures from 2021, which indicate that suicide rates are on the rise, and females aged 50-54 years were the highest female age-specific suicide rate, accounting for nearly 10% of total suicides of females, and we have a serious societal issue that needs addressing.

“Last year, I was lucky enough to win the awards for both Western Australia and National Group Exercise Leader of the Year 2022 through AUSactive and in conjunction with Les Mills. After receiving these two incredible awards, I would like to use my platform to promote the importance of women’s mental health and the importance of exercise, and the Foundation.”

The National Mental Health Commission stated that “Women are leaders, mentors, mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, aunties, grandmas and friends. They are our confidants, our teachers and keepers of knowledge” (Australian Government, 2022). But alarmingly, around one in six women experience depression in their lifetime, and one in three women experience anxiety. In 2020-21, compared to men, women were more likely to experience high or very high levels of psychological distress, higher levels of PTSD, and eating disorders.

Post-pandemic, although women report mental health issues more readily than men, the prevalence and increase in severity of mental health issues in women is cause for concern.

In 2021, there were 786 reported cases of death by suicide in women in Australia, with Australian Bureau of Statistics indicating that:

  • Compared to the previous year, the suicide rate increased by five per cent
  • suicide was the 24th leading cause of death for females
  • 42 years was the median age for females who suicided
  • females aged 50-54 years had the highest female age-specific suicide rate, accounting for nearly 10% of suicides of females.

To most people, Sarah Ford appears as an energetic, happy, humble fitness devotee. But this 44- year-old UK native wasn’t always recognised by her sunny disposition and positive outlook. Sarah was almost one of those alarming statistics.

“I went through a divorce, which resulted in an increase in my experience of anxiety and depression. I then experienced an incident at work that actually left me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and this all left me really unwell. When I eventually started getting better, my fitness was poor and I’d gained weight. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life and I felt like I’d completely lost my identity. I started trying different fitness activities, and while I was thinking about what to try next, I noticed a pamphlet from the local recreation centre. When I opened it up, it was promoting a mixed martial arts and music program called LES MILLS BODYCOMBAT®. I was so nervous as I walked into the room for the first time. I remember seeing the Instructor (who since became a great friend of mine, but sadly, who passed away this year), and I remember thinking ‘I could never be like her’ – she was just so wonderful! The class was amazing, and it was that class in that studio, which changed my life.”

Having discovered first-hand, the power of fitness for recovery and management of mental health conditions, Sarah became a certified BODYCOMBAT instructor and fitness professional with her own business called Sarah Ford Fitness. She has also founded her own charity to provide fitness opportunities to financially disadvantaged women who are experiencing mental health conditions.

“Through the Foundation, my group fitness classes will provide women with a sense of hope, and the tools to develop self-worth. I want women to discover – like I did – that exercise is not just something that feels uncomfortable or boring, and that the gym is not a place where you need to feel self-conscious or scared. Through exercise, women can discover their personal power and build resilience and courage.”

Of course, in order for the Foundation to be able to offer these classes, vital funds are needed. To fundraise, Sarah is taking part in the following four Western Australian-based fitness events:

  • Armadale Champion Lakes Sprint Triathlon (750m swim, 25km bike, 5km run)
  • Virtual Rottnest Channel Swim – solo attempt (20km)
  • HBF Run for a Reason Half Marathon (21km)
  • Perth Running Festival Marathon (42km)

“My goal is to raise $500 for every kilometre I complete in the swim and the two runs (83km in total). This money will then be used by the Foundation to establish the necessary infrastructure and processes to deliver safe and effective classes. All going to plan, we hope to start classes in March 2024.”

On 22 January, Sarah completed her first event – the Armadale Champion Lakes Sprint Triathlon.

“I did my first triathlon and I finished! Despite numerous things that could have put me off, I kept my head down and got it done. I can tell you now, that the battle with anxiety was far from easy at the beginning, but I did not let it beat me! Truthfully, I did not ever imagine that I could do something like this, but I proved to myself that I can, and this is just the beginning of my adventures!”

“If you experience PTSD like I do, then you’ll know what it’s like to live with the fear always being on repeat. However, I am here to represent all women who experience mental health issues, to show them there is hope, and that there are wonderful people who will support you when you chase your dreams.”

“I don’t live my life free from anxiety or depression. I still have my battles; however, exercise saved my life, and it is now my life purpose to share this gift with other women.”