Today is World Mental Health Day and County Football Associations across the country are using football as crucial intervention to help people with their wellbeing.
Northumberland County FA are one example. They’ve linked up with Newcastle United Foundation and Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Trust to deliver free football sessions over a six month period to local mental health service users.
The aims are to improve the participants' mental, physical health and wellbeing, promote social inclusion through football activity and discussion, develop greater problem solving, decision making and communication skills on then pitch and generate cohesion as a team and developing greater resilience in the face of adversity.
Mark Dalglish from the Foundation can see the benefits first hand and explained: "This partnership is allowing people to establish greater structure and routine in their life and develop a greater sense of meaning.
"They may not be part of formal mental health services but they have all come together to play football which is in turn improving their wellbeing.'
At the other end of the country, Essex FA has just kicked-off specialist sessions with a similar ethos as football development officer Cindi Chatha explains: "We ran our first last week and our second coincides with World Mental Health Day itself, with two wellbeing sessions in Basildon and Colchester aimed at 18+ adults with mental health, substance misuse issues as well as those who are homeless, which provide a safe fun environment to aid recovery.
"We are in partnership with Futures in Mind, Phoenix Futures and Mid and North Essex Mind. The sessions have progressed with a few service users becoming role models to the others and now looking to obtain their Level 1 coaching qualification in order to lead on the sessions, giving ownership back to the group.
"We understand that there is still a stigma associated with mental health so we hope the promotion of these sessions throughout the county will aid in reducing this."
Sheffield FAs ‘Goal in Mind’ project covers South Yorkshire, with an overarching aim to create an ‘open conversation’ about mental health via social media, improve the physical and mental well-being of participants and improve confidence and aspirations by upskilling participants, providing access to volunteering opportunities.
They’ve linked up with local NHS mental health providers and professional clubs Barnsley FC, Sheffield United, Chesterfield FC and Rotherham United Community Trust.
"Football in the regions is really doing its bit in this space," said Funke Awoderu, The FA’s senior inclusion and diversity Manager, who is heartened by the breadth of work taking place.
"There are brilliant projects from built up conurbations like Birmingham's award-winning Wellbeing League, which is actively making a difference to people's lives, down to Guernsey with its support of the BOUNCE project via its local Youth Commission.
"The diversification of this work is impressive too; Nottinghamshire FA are focusing on the wellbeing of women and girls in some of their work, while London FA is using the medium of film to bring this sensitive issue to life. Surrey and Liverpool FAs are also doing stellar work in their areas which paint a positive collective picture.’