INSPIRATIONAL sprint star Maria Lyle has spoken out about her struggle with her mental health, saying she has had a “tough year” as she celebrated becoming European champion for a sixth time on Tuesday evening.

Maria, 18, of Dunbar, who has cerebral palsy, stormed to victory in the T35 100m at the World Para-athletics European Championships in Berlin.

Following her victory in Germany, the former Dunbar Grammar School pupil revealed she had faced significant challenges off the track too.

Her brave decision to comment publicly on the issue – one in four people in the UK experiences a mental health problem each year – has been widely praised.

Maria said: “I have had a tough year and struggled with my mental health.

“I have had a few difficult years and when you don’t perform it can eat you up as a person when you expect so much.”

Maria said she was “super happy” to have retained her T35 100m title but admitted that her place on the start line had been in doubt in the build-up.

She added: “A couple of weeks before the event I wasn’t sure if I would come out and compete but I am not a quitter and I don’t want to give up.

“For me, it was about just coming here and doing my best and I am really pleased. This medal gives me big confidence. My main aim was to defend my title and I can’t ask for any more.”

The teenager, who is due to start a job with the civil service when she returns from Berlin, said that just getting to the start line had been “challenging” but thanked her family, coach Jamie Bowie, and friends, for their support.

Maria also has access to British Athletics’ medical team and their services.

“I have a good network – I am feeling positive for the future,” she said.

“I am not a quitter and I don’t want to give up.

“So even if I came out here and got on the line and didn’t perform to my best, as long as I got here and tried my very best that is all I could ask for.”

Maria was praised by her coach Bowie for speaking out on mental health.

The county’s former athletics development officer told the Courier: “It is an issue in sport that is not talked about too much so it is a brave decision to talk about it so openly.

“She’s had some great support from British Athletics’ medical team and that has really helped.”

Her mum Susan, a PE teacher at Dunbar Primary School, told the Courier: “It must be difficult as a young person in the spotlight, and with a disability, but the first step is to acknowledge that there’s a problem.

“She’s done that now and she’s getting help – it was great to see her enjoying herself [on Tuesday evening] – it isn’t all just about winning medals.”

East Lothian MSP Iain Gray said: “I was delighted to see Maria’s latest success in Berlin.

“Her achievement in winning a third European title aged just 18 is remarkable and she deserves great praise for it.

“The fact she has spoken about the pressure she has faced as a young elite athlete also says a huge amount about her character and maturity.

“She is a really outstanding role model for young people everywhere.”

Councillor Fiona O’Donnell, East Lothian Council’s cabinet spokesperson for health and social care, added: “We shouldn’t be surprised that this inspirational young woman has had the courage to speak out about her mental health struggles.

“I know it will help other young people and athletes to open up about the pressures in their lives, and it is so important that they do this.

“When you look at Maria you see this smart, beautiful and successful young woman operating in a world where only the best will do.

“But when you think about the pressures which she and all young people face, and add to that competing at the highest level in international athletics, and living with a disability, that is a lot for the most resilient of people to have to deal with.

“It is easy to say ‘don’t be so hard on yourself’ but the drive you need to succeed clashes with that advice. Those involved in supporting sportspeople need to be able to spot the signs when someone is struggling and to know how to get the right help.”

Dunbar ward councillor Norman Hampshire, described the teenager as “a role model” and congratulated her on her success.

He said: “To come out and speak about how she dealt with this and still compete at such a high level is amazing.

“She is a role model for so many young people.”

Claire Slowther, the new headteacher at Dunbar Grammar School, offered her congratulations to the former DGS pupil.

She said: “We are extremely proud of Maria – she is a real superstar!

“The whole school community have followed her sporting journey and we are so proud of all she has achieved and is continuing to achieve.”

Maria insists she is now “on the mend” and hopes other young athletes in her position can get the same help she has had.

She added: “You have to remember we’re just young people but I think sports and governing bodies are starting to realise that and there is help available for athletes.”

Colin Leslie, from the mental health charity Support in Mind Scotland, said: “It must have taken great courage for Maria to open up about her personal experiences, and by sharing her story she will doubtless inspire many others to do the same.

“People affected by mental ill health should never be afraid to ask for help if or when they need and it is uplifting to hear such powerful words from a top-class athlete.

“Maria’s comments will help generate conversations about an issue that affects one in four of the population and she can be proud not only of her fantastic achievements on the track but what she has done to raise mental health awareness.”

Maria is now focusing on the final of the T35 200m, which takes place on Sunday.