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Up to 2.8m people with mental health problems could potentially benefit from the expansion of a pilot scheme by Mind and Sport England to help more people with mental health problems access and benefit from physical activity.
Sport England has awarded Mind £1.5 million in National Lottery funding to extend Get Set to Go, a scheme, which has provided over 3,500 people with physical activities including gym, football, badminton, walking, boccia and ultimate frisbee - combined with group and one on one peer support, and Mind’s safe and supportive online social network Elefriends.
During the pilot, participants felt significantly more supported to engage with physical activities and had increased the number of days on which they took part in physical activity by, on average, 1.3 days. They also felt it improved their resilience and their ability to deal with anxiety, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts.
Yet despite the proven benefits of sport and physical activity on mental health, people with mental health problems face significant barriers to being active. Mind’s research suggests that almost 70 per cent of people with mental health problems feel that their mental health makes taking part in physical activity too difficult.
Sport England research also shows that there are strong correlations between poor mental health and physical inactivity (1).
To help address this, an expanded Get Set To Go scheme will give specialist training and information to help make sport and physical activity in England more mental health friendly. Over 30,000 sport and physical activity staff and volunteers will be trained to give better support to people with mental health problems.
Leisure centres, gyms and similar providers will be encouraged to be more welcoming and to understand the needs of people with mental health problems. An appreciation of mental health will be embedded in the way they work, for example by including it in coaching and leadership qualifications, with the potential to reach 2.8 million people with mental health problems.
Recommendations for the sports sector include building stronger relationships with local mental health providers, providing more training for staff around mental health awareness to reduce stigma, creating more welcoming group environments particularly for first time attendees, involving family and friends, and giving really clear communication to encourage attendance.
Alongside this, a refined version of the programme will be launched in ten areas across England, directly helping 1,500 people with mental health problems to become active and a further 1,500 to remain active with the right level of support based on their individual need. Participants will also be encouraged to become volunteer ‘peer navigators’, using their own experiences to support others.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We’re delighted that Sport England has awarded us a further £1.5m to develop a second phase of our Get Set to Go programme. Since 2014, Get Set to Go has supported over 3,500 people in communities across England to look after their mental health by getting physically active. We know that physical activity can play a vital role in the lives of people with mental health problems, reducing the risk of depression by up to 30%.
“Unfortunately we also know that many people who do want to participate in sport are being held back by their mental health, whether that’s feelings of low self-confidence, exhaustion or fear of crowded spaces. Our own research showed that four fifths (80 per cent) of people with mental health problems are put off sport because they feel self-conscious about their bodies and almost 70 per cent feel their mental health makes taking part too difficult. Nearly two thirds (64 per cent) were also worried about taking part in sport by themselves.
“The findings of the Get Set to Go programme show us that it works as a model; improving participants’ resilience and building their support networks, particularly through peer support, which harnesses the power of people’s own experiences to support others and be supported. With Sport England’s backing we look forward to working even more closely with the sport and physical activity sector to build on the success of Get Set to Go over the next three years.”
Jennie Price, Chief Executive of Sport England, said: “I am very proud that Sport England is working with Mind, the leading mental health charity. The lessons we have learned together in first phase of our partnership are now being applied to train 30,000 staff and volunteers, and I hope this will make a big difference to how people with mental health conditions feel about trying sport and physical activity.”
Jade has been participating in boxing classes, as part of Mind’s Get Set To Go and credits it with helping her to manage her mental health.
“Before I joined Get Set to Go I tried to deal with suicidal feelings on my own but I drank, self-harmed and didn’t look after myself because it didn’t matter to me whether I lived or not. I still struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings, but since taking up boxing I’m better equipped to deal with things when I’m not feeling well, and I have a good support network around me.
“When I found Get Set to Go, I discovered I that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling. The instructor is great. Boxing makes me feel better both physically and mentally. Before boxing sessions I didn’t want to live. I didn’t know how to go about sorting things out. Instead of punching myself, now I punch the gloves!”
Boxing has also given her the confidence to go on to volunteer at Mind’s Crystal Palace charity shop - where she has flourished.
Sujan, who joined the Wolverhampton-based Jolly Joggers as part of Get Set to Go, said: “I was very nervous at first because I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety attacks, so the idea of going to a new group was a bit scary. It was hard at first to get the motivation to go but once you’re there it’s brilliant because everyone is in the same boat as you.
“When I don’t go jogging I feel quite down and lethargic, so it’s become an important part of my routine now that I go for a jog at least once a week. Jolly Joggers is great because it motivates you to keep going jogging, even in winter. It’s helped with my panic and anxiety attacks and I feel much better and more confident in myself. I can go jogging on my own now, which I never used to do before. I’ve made new friends which I keep in touch with and we go jogging together.”
Find out more about Get Set to Go and Mind's other sports work here
(1) Only 50% of people with mental health problems are active (doing 150 minutes a week) compared to 60% of the general population. Sport England Active Lives Survey May 2016-17.