Zwift and Mental Health: Making the World a Better Place to Live

Zwift and Mental Health: Making the World a Better Place to Live

Editor’s note: a Zwifter sent me this post in honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month. We’re getting it out a bit late, but the message is as fitting as ever.


I was so inspired by the Zwift Insider article about Jason Mutchler, who is a hero on so many levels, that I decided to write an article about other mental health issues, as they are also relevant with regard to Zwift and finding inner peace.

Some Background and Facts

My name is not John Smith, but that is fairly irrelevant. The WHO estimates that 1 in 4 people in the world will suffer with mental health issues during their lifetime. Approximately 13% of the world currently has a mental health issue, which includes depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse disorders, bipolar disorders, and more. This means that approximately 1 billion people in the world currently have a mental health disorder, with an estimated cost to the global economy of over $1 trillion USD. They also estimate that most with mental health issues do not seek help due to the stigma, or lack of info on mental health and how to get help.

What this all means is that I could be your mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter, your best friend, your acquaintance, your worst enemy, or even you. So my real name does not really matter for this article. Where I live is also irrelevant. I could be living in the US, Canada, the EU, Australia, Asia, Africa, and possibly even in Antarctica (penguins with mental health issues? Not sure, but according to Zwift, there are riders who identify as being from Antarctica).

Now some info about the real me: I suffered a serious life event 5 years ago in my 50s, with the death of a very close relative due to cancer. After his passing, I suffered from serious depression and many times I found myself in some very dark places, which is code among those who suffer from mental health issues that they have considered suicide. I also suffer from PTSD due to several abusive bosses, 2 cycling accidents, and now PTSD and depression from the Covid pandemic. I also have varying degrees of OCD, depending on my anxiety levels.

So I speak from a position of understanding a little about mental health. Fortunately, I sought help, and am now on medication, under the care of a mental health professional, and continue to live a fairly normal life with a responsible job. This is my story, but everyone who suffers from mental illness and mental health issues has a different story. I can only speak for my experiences, but there are 1 billion other stories.

Cycling, Zwift, and Mental Health

I have been a competitive cyclist for over 30 years. After the passing of my close relative and the mental health issues that followed, I did not ride for over a year. The depression was too great. I decided after a year to start cycling again to try and dig myself out of my depression and also honor his memory. I chose a multi-day event and trained for it for over 6 months, and during the event, wore a cycling jersey with his name on the back. The cycling helped ease the pain and torment I was going through, and was another step in the recovery.

A few years later, I was involved in 2 cycling accidents, and subsequently bought a smart trainer, joined Zwift, and the rest is history. Zwift has provided a wonderful solution and comfort to reduce (but not eliminate) my PTSD and OCD. That will never go away. When my anxiety and/or depression rears its ugly head, I try to get on my bike in my pain cave to try and pull myself out. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. And sometimes, I just go back to bed.

Zwift is not a perfect solution for mental health issues, but it is a huge help. Without it, my mental health issues would be much worse, and my cycling would also be much more limited or non-existent. The physical, mental, and emotional benefits are very significant.

What You Can Do

If you are one of the billion people who currently have mental health issues, please know that you are not alone. If you are getting help, that is amazing! No one has ever asked for any physical illness and no one has asked for mental health issues. They are one in the same. And going to a therapist is exactly the same as going to the doctor for a medical condition.

If you are one of the billion people who currently have mental health issues, but you are not seeking help, please get help. You are not alone and you should seek the help that will make you better. There is no need to suffer, and life will get better. It will never be perfect, but life is never perfect. There are many resources and groups that can help you find the best place and people for you. It took me time to find the right solution for me. If the first attempt doesn’t work for you, find another option. It happens a lot.

Whether you have a mental health issue or not, PLEASE help to destigmatize mental illness and mental health issues, and PLEASE spread the word that there is no shame in having mental health issues.

Please be kind to everyone. You never know what that can do for anyone, especially someone feeling alone and suffering from mental illness. I personally know several people who were strongly considering suicide, but felt the kindness of another and changed their mind. In Zwift, this kindness translates to giving Ride Ons and using the Zwift messaging function to give encouragement. Don’t underestimate the benefit.

In addition to that, you will meet many wonderful people. I have met cancer survivors, people mourning the loss of a loved one and friends, people suffering from cancer and depression, a cyclist with a Purple Heart medal, lots of heroic frontline health care workers, and so many amazing people. You can too! Watopia is a GREAT place!

Join a mental health awareness ride. You will help to destigmatize mental health issues and help to bring this important issue to the forefront. In addition to that, if you have mental health issues, you will benefit from the camaraderie in this ride. Try it! You won’t be disappointed.

In addition to the mental health awareness rides IRL, the Zwift calendar includes regular mental health awareness rides. I am aware that The Big Ring (TBR) Zwift club has 2 mental health rides that are called the Knights of Suburbia (KoS) Ride (see event schedule on ZwiftHacks). Knights of Suburbia is a team of cycling enthusiasts based in Australia, who have a passion for riding, and also help to support the battle against mental illness and offer support, and raise awareness and funds for mental health. You can find them on Facebook or at knightsofsuburbia.com. It’s a wonderful, fun, and upbeat Zwift social ride for everyone (2.2 w/kg average with lots of legendary sweeps just in case you fall behind and need some help). These rides also have the added benefit of a light mental wellness message in the middle, plus lots of good banter and some jokes.

If there are other mental health awareness rides you’ve tried on Zwift, please list them in the comments.

Wrapping It Up

Unlike Watopia, the world is not always a kind, loving place. Zwift and Zwifters are in the process of making Watopia an amazing place where people are accepted regardless of race, religion, nationality, creed, sexual preference, sexual orientation, mental health status, size, body shape, and whatever makes you the amazing person you are! We are not there yet, but I see great strides being made.

Let’s make Watopia, and all the Zwift worlds, an even kinder and more accepting place, and let’s also make the world more like Watopia. RIDE ON!!!

About The Author

Eric Schlange

Eric runs Zwift Insider in his spare time when he isn't on the bike or managing various business interests. He lives in Northern California with his beautiful wife, two kids and dog. Follow on Strava

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Evan
Evan
13 days ago

This is why I love Zwift and Watopia. acceptance is a major part of everyone’s life. zwift has done a great job of making everyone feel welcome and included, from events to fundraisers. way to go zwift and zwift insider, keep it up!

Matt 3595
Super Member
Matt 3595 (@straightlineboy)
13 days ago

As someone who lives alone, Zwift has been a big part of my life over the past year and a bit. Thanks to Zwift I’ve come through the pandemic fitter than I’ve ever been, despite being nearly 50 now. I’ve jumped on my turbo trainer or treadmill and clocked up many hours, engaging with others through chat and encouraging as much as possible. Next time you’re doing a group workout, engage with others, say hello to the group and congratulate others for making it to the end… you’ll feel good for doing it and you might just help someone on… Read more »

Whitney Stidham
Whitney Stidham
13 days ago

I have GAD and depression, with a little bit of OCD. Exercise has always been my go-to to help alleviate my mood swings. My issues weren’t that bad until my dad unexpectedly passed in 2011. My whole world crashed and I was never the same. I remember getting up early to go for a road ride on the day of his funeral. It’s weird, but it felt like someone’s hand was on my back pushing me though the ride. Maybe it was his spirit, maybe it was just me, I’ll never know. I understand what it’s like to ride through… Read more »

Anon
Anon
13 days ago

Thanks for sharing this. Zwift and cycling has indeed made a big difference in my mental health. In addition to seeing a professional. When exercise is not enough to keep the bad thoughts at bay, please seek help. Ride on!

Gil_SantaMaria
Gil_SantaMaria
12 days ago

Zwift has significantly contributed to my physical and mental health. Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging people to practice physical activity and seek help. Keep strong

Wendy
Wendy
12 days ago

I love the supportive world of Zwift . It did not have to be created with that theme but it was. I am thankful.

Donna
Donna
12 days ago

This is a fantastic article and highlights how physical and mental health holds equal importance in all our lives. Zwift offers a unique place to improve both elements simultaneously. I have joined many of the TBR Knights of Suburbia group rides over the past few months and thoroughly recommend them. The team offers gentle awareness, tips and tricks. It feels a very safe place to pop out of a comfort zone and share a problem with nothing but support and encouragement in return. I feel that no matter how introverted or anxious a person may be, groups like TBR are ready to offer a supportive… Read more »

Danny
Danny
12 days ago

Thank you Eric ( @Eric Schlange ) for posting an awesome article, that helps to destigmatize mental health issues and mental illness! Major Respect and Kudos!
ZI is so awesome for so many reasons, as it helps us all in so many ways, and helps to join the Zwift community as one. Good for you!
Keep it coming…and Ride On!!!

Julia
Julia
12 days ago

Thanks for this article Eric. Personally the KOS ride enabled me to feel part of a wider community. Your points resonated really deeply with me. Zwift has allowed so many of us to find a great space. The support on the KOS from all the leaders, sweeps and every rider is brilliant, and it puts mental health, friendship and support strategies at the forefront.

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison
12 days ago

Thanks Eric for highlighting this issue & the benefit connection with Zwift. Having ridden with TBR over the entire lockdown, I have never met a more understanding, compassionate & friendly bunch of riders. The KOS rides have been a great relaxed free time on the bike, each ride focusing on a difficult mental health topic within the ride, but expertly delivered. Always ending on a light note with trivia or quizzing. Never judging or criticising, but always there with fantastic help & an ear to listen. Having had dark times back in 2009 with cancer, the bike gave me an… Read more »

Dave
Dave
11 days ago

Being someone that suffers Bi-polar with psychosis, i totally under stand where this is all coming from. For many decades i have used cycling as an escape, a leveller. When i don’t cycle for more than a few days i feel the tears appearing in my medication regime. Cycling and the safety that i get in Zwift just give me that bit extra grounding that i need. Through the Covid pandemic i have moved to working from home and at the request of my boss i am staying there as it is far better for my productivity. I have my… Read more »

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