October is World Mental Health Month. To mark it, and specifically World Mental Health Day on 10 October, peak performance coach Cobus ‘The Viking’ Visser wants to encourage people in general, and men in particular, to pay attention to their mental health.
The renowned South African author, speaker, trainer, facilitator, life coach and firewalking instructor believes that World Mental Health Month is important for several reasons, especially in a society where mental health issues are often overlooked or downplayed.
“Setting aside an entire month for mental health helps create awareness, which reduces the stigma that still exists in many communities, it educates and informs, enabling people to better manage or improve their mental health, and it encourages people to talk about their own experiences, allowing them to access the necessary help and support.”
What’s more, says Cobus, is that it influences people to look at those around them and identify someone who truly needs support, and to let them know that they are not alone.
Cobus, who was diagnosed with haemophilia as a child, is no stranger to anxiety and depression. Living with the illness means that he is in constant pain, and unable to participate in sport and other activities. This, coupled with other factors, such as not seeing his children very often, has an immense impact on his mental health. The issue is further complicated by the aftereffects of several brain operations.
“I have battled with mental health issues for most of life, to varying degrees, and for a variety of reasons. Like many other men, I used to keep this to myself as I didn’t want to appear weak, and I didn’t want others to think less of me,” he admits.
His turning point came when he sat, gun in hand, contemplating whether to pull the trigger. That moment was the catalyst for turning his life around and living with purpose, without regret, whatever it takes.
Cobus’s passion for raising awareness of mental health issues among men stems from the fact that, despite depression and suicide being ranked as a leading cause of death among men, they are still far less likely to seek help and support than women.
“Men face both self- and social stigma about showing their emotions or talking about their mental state. This often comes from the masculine ideals they have been conditioned or socialised to believe. I want other men to know that they are not alone, that they are not weak, and that there is help and support available.”
The key for Cobus has been cultivating habits to help him cope. These include taking care of his physical health by walking or going to the gym, having a close-knit circle of friends, watching comedies, constantly striving for personal growth and development, and setting short and long-term goals. His advice for others, however, is to find what works for them, and to connect with something outside themselves – whether with people, animals, or nature.
Cobus has faced some incredible challenges in his lifetime. In 2013, he found himself in the hospital, unable to move. Instead of giving up, he decided his body would no longer be his prison and regardless of his condition, he has accomplished incredible physical feats, including climbing Mount Kilimanjaro on crutches in 2018 – a challenge which nearly cost him his life. Since then, he has made it his life’s work to help others achieve peak performance and, over the past decade, he has worked with hundreds of individuals, business leaders and people with disabilities.
He holds a BBA in Marketing Management from the IMM Graduate School and is close to completing his MBA in Marketing at the University of Edinburgh. He is also expertly qualified as a Certified Master Firewalking instructor, a Certified Master NLP Life Coach and Trainer, an Executive Business Coach, and a ShadowMatch and enneagram facilitator. In addition, he has completed courses in Applied Sports Psychology, Train the Trainer, and Mental Strength, among others.
Cobus, who has twice been honoured with the Men of Valour award, lives his life according to two maxims – #whateverittakes and #livewithoutregret. It is his lived experience that drives Cobus to motivate and inspire others and he hopes that this call to action will not only promote positive change for people’s mental health but will also encourage them to get help if they are struggling.
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