Sport for Mental Health event

Published by Becky Guest on

Sport presentation
Laura Scoles, of Newman University, has been speaking about sport for mental health alongside SportEngland and the Department of Media, Culture and Sport. The Strengthening Mental Health Through Sport event aimed to promote our awareness of community sport in the build-up to Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Funded by Comic Relief, and in collaboration with Sport Birmingham and the NHS, Newman University is conducting research into the role of sport for mental health. Specifically, can mental health patients benefit from organised sport in their community?

15,000 people in Birmingham are under the care of Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs) with a diagnosis of severe and enduring mental illness. These individuals are vulnerable to further health inequalities such as poorer physical health, increased social isolation, and reduced physical activity.

The Moving Lives Health Minds (MLHM) project engages with local sports and physical activity providers to run sessions for service users. Activities include football, fishing, golf, tennis, tai-chi, yoga, cycling, and functional fitness. The project aims to support individuals’ personal recovery and access to community sport provisions.

Newman University is evaluating the MLHM project to explore how effective it is for service users. This knowledge will contribute to future sport and physical activity specifically promoting mental health and wellbeing. Laura Scoles, a PhD student at Newman University, is leading the data collection and analysis that will inform the research. Using a range of methods, Laura is exploring the experiences of not only the service users, but also the CMHT staff and sport providers.

Results so fair suggest that the sport sessions are very helpful to the service users. Several benefits have been found, such as: greater social connectedness and social skills; a sense of achievement; providing structure and purpose; valuing being physically active; gaining a sense of normality; providing a stepping-stone to other health behaviours; and improved mental health.

While these findings are very important, Laura was able to share practical recommendations for those leading sport and physical activity. While MLHM focuses on CMHT service users, these recommendations apply to any sport and physical activity context, including schools, clubs, elite sport, etc.

First, coaches and leaders should focus on how participants are introduced to the sport, so they are ready to engage and find it personally meaningful. Second, coaches should consider how sessions are inclusive and welcoming, focusing on the person not the sport. Third, activities should go beyond the sport and support the whole person outside. This might, for example, include a coffee meet-up after sessions. Finally, leaders should consider the sustainability of sessions so that participants have an appropriate activity to continue with in the future. In addition, coaches should be welcoming, personable, and non-judgmental.

The MLHM project will continue to research sport for mental health so that we can contribute to our knowledge and practice in this area. This will help all those that participate in sport and physical activity lead healthy fulfilling lives.

For an example of the sports sessions, see Pete James from Alverchruch Angling speaking about the project. Visit Sport Birmingham to find out more.

You can follow members of Newman University on twitter
Laura Scoles @scoleslaura
Dr Mark Holland @mjgholland
Dr Adam Benkwitz @drbenkwitz
Prof Tony Myers @TDmyersMT

– Written by the Sport Team –


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