The beautiful game
Simply having a football that can be kicked around the ward garden is very helpful, not just for a bit of exercise, but because kicking the ball back and forth is a mellow way for patients, staff and visitors to connect with each other. But an increasing number of non-acute wards are setting up exciting football projects, giving their patients fabulous opportunities to meet and often beat other teams. A similar to alternative to football is rugby, of course.
The value of people with mental health difficulties taking part in community football has been recognised by both sector charities and the football world. The anti-stigma campaign Time to Change has an excellent partnership with the Football Association to promote the sport, see the information below.
- Link with local football club (they are only 600 yards from the unit) to raise awareness about stigma etc and arrange reciprocal visits and tours.
- The local [technically rugby!] club played host to a complimentary tour of the ground and stadium for some service users and staff. The tour was to promote interest in local sport, active lifestyles and the importance of physical fitness.
- The Friday football team consists of inpatients, outpatients and staff from across the wards.
- Players from the local club come and run football activities, bringing signed footballs and, even more popularly, the 2 team mascots.
- Wards can promote social inclusion, for example by encouraging patients to join community football groups on discharge. This could also be documented in a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP).
- A World Mental Health Day football tournament took place at a football club.
From the FA’s website feature on mental health
Whether it’s in mainstream, community football clubs, or in specialised sport and mental health projects, football can deliver massive benefits. There are three key ways that football can help:
- Improving mental health
- Delivering social inclusion
- Helping physical health
Improving people’s mental health
For some people, physical activity can be as powerful as medicine or therapy. In 2010 the Mental Health Foundation said that for people with depression, “Comparative studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as medication or psychotherapy”.
Exercise releases natural chemicals like adrenaline and serotonin. It also helps to release muscle tension, raises the body temperature and causes tiredness. These all help relieve stress and provide relaxation – this is of particular benefit for people with mental health problems.
Delivering social inclusion
Making friends, holding down a job, keeping fit, staying healthy… These are all normal parts of everyday life. But the stigma that surrounds mental illness makes all of these things harder for people who have mental health problems. While attitudes to sexuality, ethnicity and other similar issues have improved, people with mental health problems are still often treated unfairly.
Football can help to break this isolation and include people more in everyday life and their communities.
Helping physical health
People with mental health problems are statistically:
- More likely to be obese
- Have 2-4 times greater risk of cardiovascular disease
- Have 2-4 times greater risk of diabetes
- Life expectancy of someone with schizophrenia is typically ten years less – due to physical health problems.