Sport scheme to help people with mental health problems unveiled

RunnerImage source, Thinkstock

A £2m programme using sport to improve the lives of people with mental health problems has been announced.

It is hoped the scheme, run by charity Mind with funding from Sport England, will help 75,000 people.

They will be offered help to join sports clubs, take up a new activity or go to the gym as part of the project.

It will be launched in eight areas of England next year, with £1.5m of National Lottery funding from Sport England and £514,000 raised by Mind.

'Significant obstacles'

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said physical activity could play a "key role" in recovery from mental health issues like anxiety and depression and in staying well in the long term.

"However, mental ill-health in itself can create significant obstacles that prevent people from taking up sport in the first place," he added.

"Feelings of low self-confidence, exhaustion or fear of crowded spaces can seem insurmountable when facing a mental health problem."

Grassroots sports body Sport England will help provide "bespoke sports programmes" that will help thousands of people "access sport as part of their recovery and ongoing health", said Mr Farmer.

Sports coaches taking part on the scheme will receive training to understand the issues faced by those with mental health problems.

The target is for 25,000 people to be helped in the first 15 months of the project.

Jack Holloway, who has experienced depression, told BBC Radio 5 live that taking up running had been hugely beneficial but the idea "wasn't even on the radar" when he received counselling.

However, he said there was a danger of doctors recommending exercise as a fall-back option "if they have nothing else to offer".

There was no reason sport "shouldn't be the third prong or the second prong" of a comprehensive counselling approach, he added.

'Positive influence'

Sport England's director of community sport Mike Diaper said sport "has the power to improve lives".

He said: "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."

The project will also see support groups and taster sessions set up to help people make sport a part of their lives.

Participants will join the sports and mental health scheme through their local branch of Mind.

Sports Minister Helen Grant said: "This programme from Sport England and Mind will help people struggling with mental health problems use sport as a release and help put them on the road to recovery."

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