Mind logoEngland’s first large-scale programme to use sport to improve the lives of 75,000 people experiencing mental ill health is to launch next year.

The programme, unveiled yesterday [October 2] by mental health charity Mind and grassroots sports body Sport England, plans to support people experiencing mental health problems – such as depression and anxiety – to join mainstream sports clubs, go to the gym or take up a new sport.

The project, which will run in 8 areas across England, will be designed in collaboration with people living with mental health problems and will offer peer support groups, taster sessions and events to help people make sport part of their everyday lives.

Mind will deliver the project after securing £1.5 million of National Lottery funding from Sport England. The charity has raised a further £514,000 towards the project from other sources.

Research has shown that outdoor exercise can reduce depression and anxiety and the project will encourage people living with mental health problems to take up sport to improve physical fitness, boost confidence and help combat low mood. 

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Structured physical activity programmes can play a key role in someone’s recovery from a mental health problem and in staying well long-term. However, mental ill health in itself can create significant obstacles that prevent people from taking up sport in the first place. Feelings of low self-confidence, exhaustion or fear of crowded spaces can seem insurmountable when facing a mental health problem.

“People with lived experience will be at the heart this project, that’s been made possible thanks to Sport England. Their insight will help us to provide bespoke sports programmes that are designed to overcome the common barriers faced by so many of us, in turn helping up to 75,000 people access sport as part of their recovery and on-going health.”

Sport’s positive influence

Mike Diaper, Sport England’s executive director Community Sport, added: “There is compelling evidence that participation in sport and physical activity has a positive influence on mental wellbeing and mental illness. This includes enhancing day-to-day moods, reducing the impact of stress and enhancing self-esteem.

“That’s why Sport England is committing National Lottery funding to this exciting and ground-breaking programme. Mind really understands the people it serves – and how to help them – which makes it an ideal partner. Sport has the power to improve lives in many ways and we’re confident that this programme will really benefit the people who take part in it.”

Care and Support Minister, Norman Lamb, said: “I want to build a fairer society so that people with mental health problems get support to enjoy activities like sport, which benefit both mental and physical health. This is an excellent initiative based on an approach that’s at the heart of our new five year plan to transform care.

“I urge all health professionals and sports coaches to engage with this programme and create more opportunities for anyone affected by mental illness.”

Hayley, who ran the Royal Parks Foundation Half Marathon for Mind, last Sunday, has used running in the past to manage her depression. “I slipped into depression without really knowing why or what was happening,” she said. “When it started, I had just graduated with a degree in design and suddenly the life I'd built at university was gone. Job hunting was difficult and became a huge pressure in my mind; I began to blame myself for not succeeding right away. My self-esteem dropped, which made it even harder to network and socialise in my industry.

“I've been running as a hobby for a few years but this was my first half marathon. Running is great for my mental wellbeing – it always improves my mood, clears my head and makes me feel like I've achieved something. I’m so proud I was able to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon for Mind.”

People experiencing mental health problems who live in the 8 areas will be able to join the sport and mental health programme through their local Mind. Sports coaches and providers will also be trained to better understand the challenges faced by people with mental ill health.

Mind will launch a national awareness-raising campaign to support the programme. A web-based service for people participating in its sport programme will be provided as part of the charity’s peer support network Elefriends, an online community for people who are experiencing mental health problems to give, and receive, support from others.