London 2012 Gamesmaker and Mental Health Today digitial editor Richard Hook says that the Olympics could leave a mental health legacy for all those inspired to take up sport (13th August 2012)
With the Olympic flame extinguished following last night's spectacular closing ceremony [12 Aug], thoughts turn on how to keep the spirit of the Games burning long into the future.
Much of the discussion on the Olympic legacy has centred on ensuring young people take up sport and are inspired to keep physically fit, avoid obesity and, hopefully, aspire to become top athletes. But as well as inspiring future generations to take up sport, the nation’s mental health also stands to benefit from the Olympic legacy if recent research is to be believed.
A study of the Scottish Association for Mental Health's (SAMH) 'Get Active' pilot, championed by our new greatest Olympian, Sir Chris Hoy, highlighted that physical exercise can make a huge difference to the lives of those with long-term mental health conditions.
The study, which saw more than 600 people take part in everything from football to gardening, found that 81% of participants said they had increased confidence and 82% said the projects had helped them in their daily lives.
With sports clubs set to experience a boost in membership following the inspiring performances of the likes of Mo Farah and Jess Ennis, it is important their doors are open to all-comers, and to people of all ages and abilities. Sports, particularly team sports, have a great way of allowing mental health service users to find a world outside of their condition, as Steve Hoy from the Manchester United Foundation explains: "They [service users] regain confidence and self-esteem by being part of a group that look out for and help each other."
Of course, this only reinforces the growing evidence base showing the link between physical and mental health and, unlike many services specifically targeted at mental health service users, a lack of funding or resource will not, hopefully, be an issue.
A huge amount of money has been promised to the sports sector, with Sport England investing £1 billion of National Lottery and Exchequer money between 2012 and 2017. Their £8 million Inclusive Sport Fund is targetted at increasing the numbers of disabled people involved in sport (currently one in six) and it would be great if some of this pot was used to focus on ensuring people with mental health problems feel the benefits of taking part.
Combine this with the Olympic feel good factor that has captured the nation, let's hope that it not only 'inspires a generation' but improves their mental health too.