Personal trainer James Cooper explains how Samaritans helped him – and could help you – overcome issues around mental ill-health. 

Between 2013 and 2017, I spent five years in South-East Asia, which was a really transformational time in my life.  

I spent eighteen months as a primary school teacher in Thailand, before basing myself in Vietnam as a health and wellness coach. 

In 2015, I suffered from a bout of bad depression; I was going through a long-winded break up and it pulled the rug from under my feet. 

I felt lonely and isolated, and ended up googling ‘how to be happy’ – being in Vietnam I didn’t know of any resources available to me.

If I’d known about Samaritans, it would have been a big help. 

Searching for meaning in life and happiness took me on a journey of self-discovery and led to me setting up my wellbeing initiative, ‘Smilinggg’. The three gs represent gratitude, generosity and growth. I established this daily practice in a difficult time and wanted to share it, so smilinggg was created. 

That experience of depression really rocked me and I started to fundraise to benefit others who might be struggling. I’m an ultrarunner, and each year I do a headline challenge to support Samaritans. In previous years, I’ve completed four triathlons in four days, ran for 24 hours straight, and I’m just planning this year’s challenge. 

I do a lot of my endurance races to cultivate resilience – when you run for 24 hours it’s like a time lapse of life, you have highs and lows, and you get through it in the end. I apply that learning to involuntary challenges in life. 

In 2017, we hadn’t heard from my uncle for a while.

Sadly, he had taken his own life. It was a powerful moment for me. 

It’s a tragedy, but I want to try and bring some meaning from it, and to be there for others at their time of need.

I’ve now raised nearly £15,000 in total for Samaritans. Knowing that there is a meaning beyond the pursuit is a huge motivator.

The most rewarding thing is knowing that lives are being saved through the service; to know we’re all on the same side is a great support. 

I’ve had times in my life of suffering and times when it’s been really difficult. Having someone there to listen to me has made a huge difference, and that’s what Samaritans do. 

Mental Health Support: "Samaritans are there to Listen" | Men's Fitness UK

James Cooper at the end of his 24-hour Samaritans fundraising run

To anyone struggling, know that you aren’t alone.

There are a lot of people who are feeling, or have felt, the way you do. Get help from someone you trust – whether that’s a friend, or seeking help from a service like Samaritans. 

Be gentle on yourself. Lower the requirements you have on yourself for a day, too. Getting out of bed, making a cup of tea – anything that helps you recognise your power. Know that it will pass and that nothing is permanent.  


Samaritans volunteers are always there to listen. They won’t judge or tell you what to do. Call for free on 116 123, email or visit