One of the most pleasing trends in sport development is the recognition of how sport can improve a person’s mental health. For as long as I can remember, we have tried to persuade people into sport and physical activity by using the physical health argument – it will increase our “fitness” / reduce our chance of developing chronic disease / help us to lose weight / etc.
As an industry, we are amazing at producing statistics – it is how we show growth and improvement and is how we justify our existence to our funders and sponsors. However, we are not as good at sharing the stories of how our sport(s) have positively affected individuals lives.
People relate to stories; they do not relate to statistics.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men between the age of 20-49 in the UK. It is in public interest that we, who work in the development of sport, start opening up and telling stories of how engaging with our sport can help reduce some of the factors that lead to people taking their own lives. Most sports demand that coaches have some training in First Aid; but how many of us are pushing for our staff, coaches or volunteers to be trained to spot the tell-tale signs of a mental health issue?
There is some excellent work being done by charities in Scotland – SAMH and the Chris Mitchell Foundation, to name a couple – to reduce the stigma attached to talking about our mental health. We cannot rely on specific charities to fight this fight for us. The conversation around the improvement of all of our mental health is a public health issue; therefore, those of us who are involved in industries that have an interest in public health have a responsibility to ensure we are discussing ALL aspects, including mental health.
We all have our reasons for participating in sport, that change as we go through different seasons in life. The number one reason I love running because it improves my mental hygiene – whatever issues I am dealing with that day seem to fall away during that time outside. The physical benefits are of secondary importance, and my gut tells me that more of us with busy lives are exercising for our mental health as opposed to our physical health but are not brave enough to say so, because of the stigma attached.
We are miles ahead of where we were 5 years ago and are definitely trending in the right direction. We may or may not ever produce a World Champion in our chosen sports; however, we can potentially improve (or even save!) the lives of hundreds / thousands by publicly sharing the stories of how participation has improved a person’s mental health, and hoping that resonates with another who is struggling.
Question: What are YOU doing to reduce the stigma attached to discussing mental health?