Pobol y Cwm actor in World Cup French charity cycle for Mind Cymru
Rhys ap William speaks about how his own experiences of depression helped inform Pobol y Cwm’s powerful storyline exploring suicidal feelings, and how this led him to take on a mammoth cycle for Mind.
A Welsh actor, sports broadcaster and media personality will take on a 300km, four-day cycle this week in France to raise money for leading mental health charity Mind Cymru.
Rhys ap William, who plays Cai in Welsh soap Pobol y Cwm, will travel to France from Portsmouth Harbour, via Cardiff, before heading on to Saint Malo by ferry. He’ll then travel south to Nantes along the velo route to coincide with Wales’s last group stage game against Georgia on 07 October 2023.
The actor recently received widespread praise for his portrayal of his character’s ongoing mental health struggle and subsequent suicidal ideation.
Audiences witnessed Cai’s long-running struggle with alcohol dependency and anxiety, which developed into a deep depression leaving Cai feeling suicidal. A special episode to mark Suicide Prevention Month in September showed Cai contemplating taking his own life, and audiences were moved to see D.I Delyth Fielding (played by Carys Eleri) support Cai through this time.
The storyline was well received by audiences and Cai is now an inpatient who is getting the help he needs. Mind’s Media Advisory Service worked on the storyline and Rhys and programme producers also worked closely throughout with Samaritans and mental health activist Tom Dunning – known as the Mental Health Runner – to inform the storyline.
Rhys’s own personal struggle with depression, which he lived with for more than a decade before finally seeking support, also spurred him to want to raise funds for Mind.
He explained: “I know from my own experience, and from research for the show, how much simply opening up and talking can be a powerful starting point from which to recover from mental health challenges.
“Depression was very much a part of my life until I finally sought help in the form of talking therapy. That was a real gamechanger that allowed me to understand what was happening to me and have coping strategies for things like negative or anxious thinking patterns.
“While I never got to the stage that Cai in the show got to, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that those thoughts hadn’t crossed my mind at points. Being able to feed in my own experiences of feeling this way, but not telling anyone about it, was really useful in terms of having some lived experience that I could bring to the screen.
“We’ve informally adopted a ‘change the end of the story’ tagline for the storyline. I’m really passionate about this idea that the story doesn’t have to end a certain way, that support IS out there, and that the first step is always talking.”
Rhys is no stranger to charity sporting efforts, which he usually carries out with teammates from rugby club Clwb Rygby Cymry Caerdydd. However, this time he’ll attempt the cycle alone.
He added: That’s important to me as well, this idea that men in particular – not least those in sport and rugby settings – can often struggle in silence with their mental health. I hope this cycle, my own experiences and the wider storyline, all serve to raise awareness of this and help others to seek support if they need it.”
Speaking about his links with France and desire to tie in the cycle with the World Cup, he said: “I’ve actually spent more time in France writing on the World Cup for Welsh sports magazine Chwys than I have in Wales over the past few weeks, so it made sense to tie the cycle into that!
“I’ve got plenty of contacts in France – not least my mum’s old penpal who she used to write to at school back in the 50s – so I’ll be stopping off at various points for a glass of wine and a nice meal or two!”
Sue O’Leary, Director at Mind Cymru, said: “It has never been more important for broadcasters to create accurate, sensitive storylines about mental health. These stories can help people recognise when they might be experiencing a mental health problem themselves and prompt them to seek help.
“This is emphasised by research co-commissioned by Mind and ITV which showed that one in four of us have learned about our mental health problems from watching a fictional character’s mental health journey on screen.
“We wish Rhys all the best on his charity ride.”