How Golf Helped Restore My Mental Health

For much of 2022, Golf Monthly Editor Mike Harris struggled with his mental health. He talks about how important golf was in helping him overcome depression and anxiety and bringing him back to being in a 'good place'

mental health
Golf can provide a great opportunity to talk about how you feel
(Image credit: Kenny Smith)

In the 35 years I’ve been playing golf, I’ve always appreciated the many health benefits the game offers; from the physical exercise involved in walking 18 holes to the mood benefits of being out in nature with time and space to think. 

A round of golf, whether with friends or on my own, has been the ‘healthy’ way I have sought to deal with sadness, disappointment or stress (I’ve coped in ‘unhealthy’ ways too, mainly by reaching for a drink). Until recently, golf had almost always done the trick of clearing my mind and getting me back on track. 

However, things were different this year. My usual relentlessly optimistic outlook had changed and I found myself stuck in a place where my thinking was very negative; I was constantly anxious and felt very low and depressed. In short, my mental health was really poor. Golf didn’t seem to be working its usual magic. I was playing, but the cloud wasn’t lifting. That wasn’t golf’s fault – I just needed more. So in the end I took some time away from work and sought some professional help.

Working with a therapist helped me understand how I’d got into this position of negative thinking and a depressed mood. This was very important, but I also made a big effort to play more golf. When I played, I focused less on how well I was playing and more on just how great it was to be out there. I often used those rounds to talk to playing partners I trusted about how I felt, and that too was very helpful.

That dual approach was the code cracker for me, and thankfully I am now in a position where I’m back enjoying ‘good mental health’. I know golf has played a significant part in that turnaround. My personal story links in with a brilliant feature Fergus Bisset has written, looking at The R&A’s drive to increase participation by focusing on the mental and physical health benefits golf can offer everyone.

I believe it could be a really powerful marketing tool for the game in its bid to attract new players – and for established golfers, like you and me, it makes for comforting reading to know that when you most need it, the game of golf will be there for you.

Mike has been a journalist all his working life, starting out as a football writer with Goal magazine in the 1990s before moving into men’s and women’s lifestyle magazines including Men's Health, In 2003 he joined Golf Monthly and in 2006 he became only the eighth editor in Golf Monthly’s 100-plus year history. His two main passions in golf are courses, having played over 400 courses worldwide, and shoes; he owns over 40 pairs.

Mike’s handicap index hovers at around 10 and he is a member of four clubs: Hartley Wintney, Royal Liverpool, Royal North Devon and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.