Edge Hill student highlights impact of expanding child mental health programme

Three schoolchildren draw pictures in workbooks while a student mentor helps out.
Tackling the Blues has reached more than 2,500 school pupils to date.

An Edge Hill student is highlighting the profound impact of award-winning child mental health programme Tackling the Blues as it gets set to expand. 

Summer Cunningham, a student mentor for the sport and arts-based mental health education programme, highlighted how her own contribution has made a difference to children’s lives as the programme expands into Greater Manchester. 

As schools continue to respond to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the number of student mentors who support delivery of the programme will increase from 48 last academic year to more than 80 this year; more than 2,500 pupils have been reached to date. 

A student wearing a Tackling the Blues t-shirt holds up a drawing.
Summer Cunningham is a student mentor on the arts branch of Tackling the Blues child mental health programme.

Summer, a third-year student from Kettering, Northamptonshire, said:

“I remember one of the girls I worked with last year showed a 180 turnaround in self-confidence – she started out incredibly shy and unable to verbalise her answers to questions, to being loud and proud in herself, practically shouting the answers at us. When we had to leave she was so full of gratitude and cried us out the door; that’s when I really reflected and knew that we had made a difference.

“And to be taking part in the programme during the Covid-19 pandemic has really helped me too. I lost a lot of motivation last year so to be doing something useful like this made a huge difference to my own mental health.

“Tackling the Blues has also given me a unique experience to work with respected organisations, promoting mental health and wellbeing directly with children, most from deprived areas, to improve their outcomes. You can visibly see the development of literacy and emotional processing from week to week.” 

Tackling the Blues – delivered in partnership between Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool – supports children and young people aged 6-16 who are experiencing, or are at risk of developing, mental illness. 

Since its launch in 2015 a significant difference has already been made to many lives, with participating young people across the Liverpool City Region, Lancashire and now Greater Manchester displaying more confidence and less anxiety, with improved literacy and emotional intelligence skills. 

Dr Helen O’Keeffe, from the Faculty of Education, and Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity, both lead on the project at Edge Hill. 

“The Tackling the Blues project not only makes a vital difference to the children and families we work with who suffer from some of the poorest health and wellbeing in the country, it also makes an important contribution to the student experience, employability, knowledge exchange and research. 

“We are delighted that we are in a position to continue to expand this vital work during the current academic year.” 

Dr Emma Curd, Tackling the Blues coordinator for Tate Liverpool, vouched for the positive impact the programme also has on student mentors. 

“Since meeting Summer in 2019, we have seen her confidence flourish and grow in the classroom. From taking on leadership roles to developing unique and creative activities for young people to engage with, Summer is now an experienced and assured mentor. 

“She is particularly skillful in supporting the creation of a safe and creative environment for young people to talk about their feelings and emotions.” 

Tackling the Blues is continuing to develop as a result of ongoing funding from the Office for Students, Research England and the Premier League.

Edge Hill marks Mental Health Awareness Week

To mark this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, 10th-16th May, we’re placing a spotlight on the milestones and achievements marked by the Edge Hill community in the field of mental health over the past 12 months. 

From hosting unique and engaging events, to conducting leading research and delivering mental health training to the next generation, the University is continually innovating to raise awareness and increase knowledge at a time when mental health has never been more important. 

Mental Health Awareness Week 2021 

The University hosted its flagship mental health event on Monday 10th May with a special online event starring TV and radio star Roman Kemp, who gave a first-hand account of his emotional BBC documentary Our Silent Emergency, which explores the mental health and suicide crisis gripping young men across the UK. 

Roman joined a line-up of experts for an open and honest conversation about mental health. 

Rugby League Carers’ Offload programme 

Researchers at Edge Hill University published the first study of its kind into the benefits of Rugby League Cares’s Offload programme and concluded it is saving lives and providing those involved in the game a safe space for men to discuss mental health. 

The research was conducted by Professor Andy Smith, Dr David Haycock and Rachel Wilcock has been published in the international journal, Mental Health and Physical Activity, and is currently free to access online.  

Tackling the Blues launches bitesize programme 

Tackling the Blues, an award-winning sport and arts-based education programme, launched a series of online bitesize lessons to help teachers support children and young people’s mental health during lockdown

Developed in partnership by Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool, the five-week programme BLUES responded to the pupil mental health and wellbeing concerns faced by schools in the partnership. 

Mentor wants mental health to take centre stage in schools 

A performer who is training as a psychotherapist at Edge Hill is using her creative talents to encourage children and young people to open up about their mental health through the arts

Olivia Izzo, 26, is studying an MSc in Psychotherapy and Counselling at Edge Hill following a career as a performer and actor. Since joining the University, Olivia has been appointed as a mentor for Tackling the Blues, Edge Hill’s mental health literacy programme for schools in partnership with Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool. 

Tackling the Blues is a sport, physical activity, arts and education-based mental health literacy programme supporting children and young people aged 6 to 16 years who are experiencing, or at risk of developing, mental illness. 

Study reveals the benefits of sleep and physical activity on mental health

Researchers at Edge Hill University have investigated how sleep and physical activity could influence the mental health of children and young people living in Lancashire.

Dr Richard Tyler and Professor Stuart Fairclough have completed a new study on how daily activity behaviours such as physical activity, sleep, and being sedentary relate to children’s mental health and wellbeing. The study was recently published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.

Trailblazing programme supports mental health in schools and colleges

In March 2020, students attended a launch event for the new Education Mental Health Practitioner PGDip course. Edge Hill University is trailblazing a new programme to train people for new roles to support mental health in schools and colleges.

The Education Mental Health Practitioner PGDip course will see students work across education and healthcare settings to provide early intervention mental health support for children and young people in schools and colleges. These new roles will support the Government’s priority of increasing access to mental health and wellbeing support for children and young people with a focus on early intervention. 

Edge Hill University’s Wellbeing Team is available to support students with their health and wellbeing needs throughout their time at Edge Hill. Members of staff are encouraged to contact the Wellbeing Support Service, who are available to provide wellbeing support during the pandemic, at [email protected]

Campus Support are always available out of hours to provide help while on campus and can be reached on 01695 584227. 

The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 (free from any phone) or you can email [email protected]. They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

Funding boost for University’s mental health activities with Everton and Tate

Schoolchildren raise their arms in the air and cheer while an Edge Hill University student waves a trophy.
Schoolchildren celebrate their achievements at a Tackling the Blues event hosted by Edge Hill.

A sport, art and education-based mental health awareness programme developed by Edge Hill University and Everton in the Community has been awarded half a million pounds in recognition of the vital impact it has on the student experience.

The £527k funding boost will ensure the University can expand its successful collaborations with Everton in the Community and further grow arts and wellbeing activities with Tate Liverpool.

The Office for Students and Research England unveiled the successful bids today (20th April) and Edge Hill has received the award for demonstrating the benefits the Tackling the Blues project brings to students, graduates and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities.

HRH Prince William chats to schoolchildren on a recent visit to a Tackling the Blues programme.

Dr Helen O’Keeffe, Associate Dean for Edge Hill’s Faculty of Education, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Office for Students and Research England sees our work as an example of best practice across the higher education sector.

“The Tackling the Blues project not only makes an important contribution to the student experience, employability, knowledge exchange and research, but it also makes a vital difference to the children and families we work with in the Liverpool city region that suffer from some of the poorest health and wellbeing in the country.”

The award-winning Tackling the Blues targets young people aged 6-16 who are experiencing, or are at risk of developing, mental illness, and has already made a significant difference to people’s lives with participants feeling more confident and less anxious, and showing improved literacy and emotional intelligence skills.

Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill, said: “We are proud of our long-standing partnership with Everton in the Community, the charitable arm of Everton Football Club, and more recently with Tate Liverpool, and both partners are hugely committed to this programme.

“The funding will allow us to expand our activities with them and grow the arts and wellbeing activities. Crucially, it will enable us to increase students’ engagement in our research and knowledge exchange activities and provide them with unique opportunities to work with our partners to positively impact the lives of our communities.”

Everton in the Community’s Tackling the Blues Coordinator Jack Mulineux said: “To be one of the recipients of this funding is great news and it will allow us to continue to work with our long-standing partner Edge Hill University but also create a new and exciting opportunity to work with Tate Liverpool.

“Not only will this enhance our reach but it will also contribute to the expansion of our provision which will continue to be aligned with improving health-related outcomes using innovative practices such as the arts to promote wellbeing.”

Director of Tate Liverpool Helen Legg added: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to deepen our partnership with Edge Hill University and extend our work on children’s mental health. It’s a transformative opportunity and we are confident that art and creative activity can play a valuable role in improving an individual’s mental health and build their emotional intelligence.”

Since its launch in 2013, Tackling the Blues has engaged more than 1,000 young people weekly in primary schools, secondary schools and community groups.

Edge Hill University mental health partnership welcomes Duke of Cambridge

HRH Prince William chats to schoolchildren about their experience of the Heads Up programme and their understanding of mental health.

Edge Hill University staff joined partners Everton in the Community to welcome The Duke of Cambridge to Liverpool as he visited one of the charity’s mental health campaigns.

His Royal Highness Prince William spent an afternoon at The People’s Hub to find out more about the Heads Up campaign, which is run by the football club’s official charity Everton in the Community (EitC), and how it uses its influence to support fans and address key social issues affecting the local community.

He also visited three EitC projects which each provide crucial mental health support to different sectors of society – Stand Together, a programme which tackles social isolation among those aged 70+ living in Merseyside; Everton Veterans Hub, a project which uses sport to engage and support ex-service personnel; and Tackling the Blues, a sport and education-based programme delivered by Edge hill University, targeting children and young people experiencing mental health challenges.

Professor Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill University, said: “It was a privilege and a pleasure to be present at The People’s Hub today for the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to our longstanding partner, Everton in the Community. Our commitment to promoting good mental health, supporting those with mental illness and improving mental health literacy through sport lies also at the heart of the Duke’s Heads Up Campaign.

“We were delighted to provide His Royal Highness with an insight into Tackling the Blues and how our research-informed activities have helped to shape the delivery of mental health work in our partner schools and how this has benefited their pupils, staff and wider communities.”

HRH Prince William and Everton first team player Jordan Pickford chatted to schoolchildren on a visit to the Heads Up mental health project run in partnership with Edge Hill University.

The Duke of Cambridge received a civic reception from the Lord-Lieutenant of Merseyside, Mark Blundell DL; the High Sheriff of Merseyside David Steer QC DL and the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Councillor Anna Rothery, before being introduced to EitC Chief Executive Officer Richard Kenyon who served as the host to His Royal Highness during his time with the charity.

HRH Prince William was then given an insight into Everton in the Community’s ground-breaking and award-winning work in the field of mental health over the last 12 years as well as an update on the charity’s plans for The People’s Place, a purpose built mental health facility in the shadows of Goodison Park, by Everton Football Club Chief Executive Officer Professor Denise Barrett-Baxendale MBE and Everton in the Community Director of Health and Sport Michael Salla.

His Royal Highness then had the opportunity to witness some of EitC’s mental health programmes in action and meet the participants who benefit from these programmes as well as the staff behind them. He was joined in the Tackling the Blues session by Everton first team stars Jordan Pickford and Theo Walcott, Edge Hill University’s Professor Andy Smith, and observed children from Springwell Park Community Primary School taking part in a game of emoji bingo where they were asked to describe recent emotions using emojis to encourage conversations around feelings and emotions.

Everton in the Community Chief Executive Richard Kenyon said: “It has been a great honour to welcome The Duke of Cambridge to Liverpool 4 and to provide him with the opportunity to visit some of our mental health programmes and meet with the participants who benefit from them who were so enthusiastic to tell him about the positive difference we have helped make to their lives.

“We have been delivering mental health provision for our local community for more than 10 years and have a long-standing commitment to supporting positive mental health and wellbeing, together with partners such as Edge Hill University, and are continually evolving our programmes to ensure we are providing the support that’s needed right across our society.  It gives us a great deal of pride that our work has attracted the attention of His Royal Highness and it is real testament to the unwavering dedication, hard work and commitment of our staff, volunteers and participants.”

The Duke then sat down with the children and spoke with them about their enjoyment of the programme and their understanding of mental health, and encouraged the importance of communication and opening up to friends and family. 

Funded by the Premier League and delivered
collaboratively with Edge Hill University, Tackling the Blues uses tools such
as emoji bingo, peer mentoring and physical activity to help increase self -esteem
and reduce anxiety in children while helping them build positive relationships
with their peers and external agencies.

His Royal Highness was then introduced to Everton first team stars Seamus Coleman, Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin by England number one goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and Theo Walcott, and spoke with the five footballers at length about the Heads Up campaign and the importance of encouraging more people – particularly men – to feel comfortable talking about their mental health, and feel able to support friends or family through difficult times.

After an in-depth discussion about the roles that footballers can play in tackling the stigma around mental health, Club captain Seamus Coleman introduced The Duke to participants from Everton Veterans Hub as they joined them for a relaxed round-table chat about the programme, the impact it has had on their lives and their lives in the forces.

Launched in 2015, Everton Veterans Hub supports ex-service personnel with the transition from military life to civilian life and the interlinked problems that often arise. The programme offers engagement tools, support mechanisms and evidence-based behavioural change methods to improve the lives of veterans and their families.

For the final part of his visit with Everton in the Community, His Royal Highness met with participants from the charity’s Stand Together programme to take part in a football reminiscence session and the memories that old memorabilia can evoke. The Duke was joined in the session by first team duo Tom Davies and Dominic Calvert-Lewin as well as Everton Football Club Players’ Life President Graeme Sharp as they joined the elderly participants in sharing memories of old football boots and programmes.

Also funded by the Premier League, Stand Together aims to tackle social isolation among the elder members of community and offers its participants bespoke activities such as sessions on the history of city, interactive music and dance performance, home safety advice and most importantly, the opportunity to interact with like-minded people and make new friends.

Heads Up is a season-long campaign
spearheaded by The Duke of Cambridge which uses the influence and popularity of
football to show the nation that mental health is just as important as physical
health. It supports the important work which is already taking place across the
UK to end the stigma surrounding mental health, and strives to raise awareness,
spark conversation and signpost to support.

Everton Chief Executive, Professor Denise Barrett-Baxendale said: “It was an immense privilege to welcome His Royal Highness The Duke of Cambridge to Everton. I was delighted to show him the innovative, life-changing and often life-saving work Everton in the Community has been delivering in the field of mental health for over ten years.

“Everton in the Community staff work tirelessly and go
above and beyond to tackle the stigmas associated with mental health issues to
help people in our community every day.

“I was incredibly proud to stand alongside the Everton in the
Community Trustees, staff and participants to showcase the wonderful and
ground-breaking work they undertake and share best practice in supporting
people with mental health problems with His Royal Highness, including our plans for a new purpose-built, drop-in mental health
facility, to be called The People’s Place, to further assist those
living with mental health issues in North Liverpool.”

Everton goalkeeper and England international Jordan
Pickford added: “As footballers we have a responsibility to do what we can to
help tackle the stigma around mental health and Heads Up is a fantastic
campaign to encourage football fans – especially men – to open up the
conversation and let them know that it’s not ok to be ok. Myself and my
teammates are strong supporters of Everton in the Community’s fantastic work
across Liverpool and we love to get involved at any given opportunity – for the
charity to have the chance to show His Royal Highness exactly what it does to
make a difference to the lives of others is a great honour and everyone
involved should be very proud.”

In February, football is coming together to kick off the biggest ever conversation around mental health, in support of the Heads Up campaign.

The Heads Up Weekends, which are taking place on the 8-9 and 15-16 February, will see every football team from across the Premier League, English Football League, The Barclays Women’s Super League and The FA Women’s Championship dedicate their matches to Heads Up. The weekends will highlight the power of talking as a way to support one another and normalise what can often be thought of as a difficult subject, with activity planned at fixtures across the men’s and women’s football calendar.

For more information on Heads Up visit https://www.headstogether.org.uk/heads-up/

For more information on Everton in the Community visit www.evertonfc.com/community

Schoolchildren put Everton FC players in the picture to promote positive mental health

Children’s drawings to replace player matchday photographs at Goodison Park as USM training ground supports Edge Hill partnership programme Tackling the Blues

Theo Walcott, wearing his Everton FC jersey, smiles while talking to two schoolchildren.
Everton FC’s Theo Walcott chats to children from Linacre Primary School.

Portraits of Everton FC players created by schoolchildren will be shown on stadium screens for the Blues’ home game against Newcastle tomorrow, Tuesday 21 January – helping to raise awareness of the importance of positive mental health among young people.

Club partner
USM invited Year 4 pupils from Linacre Primary School in Bootle to visit
Everton’s USM Finch Farm training ground to take part in a drawing session,
with their player portraits set to make a very special appearance at Goodison
Park on Tuesday night.

The portraits
will replace the in-match player graphics for the Premier League encounter with
Newcastle on the stadium screens for the team announcement and substitutions.
They will also be used in the matchday programme and, away from the ground, the
images will be visible across Everton’s official matchday social media and
website output.

A child's drawing of Fabian Delph
Fabian Delph

The activity is part of USM’s Unlock the Potential campaign and in support of Everton in the Community and Edge Hill University’s award-winning Tackling the Blues programme.

Linacre Primary School is one of a number of schools participating in Tackling the Blues, which aims to teach young people strategies for good mental and physical health, promote emotional literacy and improve self-esteem and confidence. The programme has engaged with more than 850 young people aged six to 16 years old in the last three years.

Delivered collaboratively by Everton in the Community and Edge Hill University, and funded by The Premier League, Tackling the Blues is co-designed and developed with young people, student mentors and education workers who act as project collaborators, to help recruit participants and deliver peer mentor workshops.

Professor Andy Smith, from Edge Hill University, said: “We are delighted that the benefits of the activities which we have designed with young people who engage in the Tackling the Blues programme are being recognised in this way.

“Helping young people to understand the importance of their mental health, how and where to seek help, and to provide activities which impact their lives positively is an important part of our longstanding partnership with Everton in the Community.

“We are especially grateful to the players, USM and everyone at the football club, for their continued support of Tackling the Blues and our wider research on using sport for mental health promotion.”

Drawing portraits
is just one of the ways that participants are encouraged to explore emotions,
behaviours and reactions and gain an understanding of the things we can all do
to support each other. 

Everton FC players Jonas Lossl, Fabian Delph, Seamus Coleman and Theo Walcott sit on chairs in a row holding up the children's drawings of them.
Everton FC players Jonas Lossl, Fabian Delph, Seamus Coleman and Theo Walcott take part in a Q&A with schoolchildren from Bootle.
A child's drawing of Jonas Lossl.
Jonas Lossl

During the drawing session, the Linacre pupils were surprised by a visit from first team stars Fabian Delph, Theo Walcott, Seamus Coleman and Jonas Lossl – who came to sit for their portraits in person.

The players
then tried their hand at their own drawings before taking part in a Q&A
with the children on topics including acceptance, self-esteem, diversity and

A video of the feel-good visit is being shared by the Club on Blue Monday (January 20) – supposedly ‘the most depressing day of the year.’

The pupils have
also been invited to the game against Newcastle to see their drawings come to
life across Goodison Park.

Michael Salla, Director of Health and Sport at Everton in the Community added: “In England, between 9 and 13% of 5-15-year-olds reported having a mental health disorder, with older young people reporting higher rates of mental illness. Suicide is the biggest killer of schoolchildren each year, with 200 on average taking their own lives.

“It is fantastic to see USM showing their support for Tackling the Blues. Programmes like this are vital in providing young people with tools and strategies that they can use as they get older to maintain good mental and physical health.

“It is also about removing stigma around mental health and making it clear that it is important to talk about mental health at any age, to ask for help and support when you need it, and ensure that young people know where to find that support.

“The player portraits are a great way of sharing that message and I am sure that the children will be delighted when they see their drawings on the big screen.”  

Masters graduate champions young peoples’ success

A head and shoulders shot of Eddie Owen wearing a mortar board and gown, smiling at the camera

Graduating with a merit, 31-year-old Eddie Owen hasn’t
let a turbulent 18 months after being diagnosed with epilepsy deter him from
helping other young people succeed.

“It’s been an extremely unsettling time for me and my family,” said Eddie from Stockport. “I had a whole host of changes to my life, including losing my driving licence and not being able to play the sport I love. The MSc in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health course provided me with a brand-new start and a career I have always dreamed of doing.”

Working with young people in Trafford is what spurs Eddie on to help others, in his role at Sharks Community Trust – the official charity of Sale Sharks Rugby Union club

He helps young people who aren’t currently in education
or employment to get training, work or opportunities to study and gain
life-skill qualifications.

“It’s a brilliant job as it allows me to see these young people grow in confidence and, with a little help, find something that they’re interested in.

“Sometimes they just need someone to open the door and show them what’s out there!”

Eddie Owen in a blue tshirt from Sale Sharks, with his hands on his hips, smiling at the camera

Eddie got involved with Tackling the Blues – a sport, physical activity and education-based mental health awareness programme jointly run by Everton in the Community and Edge Hill University – through his course tutors and mental-health advocates Professor Andy Smith and Jon Jones. He later wrote his thesis around the programme and the importance of mentors who deliver the programme in schools.

“I knew straight away that this was a brilliant opportunity to work with and learn from one of the leading community charities in the country; Everton in the Community is a brilliant organisation and I enjoyed every minute, working with our partner schools around the North West.”

Eddie has a degree in Design and previously worked as a
personal trainer, but he never knew returning to Edge Hill to take his Masters would
change his career forever.

“It’s truly an incredible feeling to be graduating. It’s been a really challenging year but, without doubt, applying for the course has been the best decision I have ever made.”

If you, like Eddie, have a passion for helping others through sport, explore the courses we have to offer at edgehill.ac.uk/sport.

Survey reveals mixed picture for duty of care in the mental health of the sport’s workforce

In the first ever nationwide survey of its kind, academics at Edge Hill University, in partnership with DOCIAsport, have announced today (15 April) a mixed picture for mental illness and poor mental health experienced by people who play sport, exercise or who work in the UK sport and physical activity sector.

Responses from over 1200 men and women (aged 16 and above) involved in over 50 sports and activities from grassroots to professional level reveal that 57% of respondents had ever experienced a mental illness, with women (64%) being more likely to report this than males (51%).

Of those who had experienced mental illness, 40% currently did so (41% of females and 40% males). Significantly 70% of young women aged 16 to 24 said they had experienced mental illness with over half (54%) currently doing so. Men were more likely to currently experience mental illness from the age of 35.

Overall, approximately 1 in 4 respondents currently experience mental illness and one-third said they also knew of others who currently did so.

Anxiety, depression, panic disorders, self-harm, PTSD and OCD were the most commonly reported illnesses for men and women, with men also reporting conditions such as substance use disorders (including alcohol) and women anorexia and bulimia.

Those playing or working in grassroots sport were more likely to currently experience mental illness (45%) compared with those in education (41%), in the activity/lifestyle/recreation sector (38%) and high-performance sport (37%).

Experience of mental illness at some point in life was highest in hockey (79%), followed by climbing/mountaineering (78%), exercise and fitness (69%), cycling (64%), running (61%), triathlon (60%), rugby union (59%), swimming (56%), athletics (55%), golf (54%), multi-sports and rugby league (both 52%), football (52%) and netball (50%).

Current mental illness was most common in cricket (60%) followed by climbing/mountaineering (57%), rugby league (55%), multi-sports (46%), exercise/fitness (43%), rugby union (41%), football (40%), swimming (39%), cycling (38%), athletics and triathlon (both 33%), golf (32%), running (27%), netball (22%) and hockey (20%).

Over one-half of coaches (55%) and athletes/players (57%) had experienced mental illness, while 44% and 39%, respectively, currently did so. Volunteers also reported high levels of lifetime mental illness (64%), with 47% currently experiencing mental illness.

Other workers who were most likely to report experiencing mental illness included those directly involved in the provision of sport and physical activity, such as programme deliverers (82%), sports therapists (65%) and sport development officers (58%).

Life-time mental illness was also reported by over one-half of respondents in managerial and administrative roles, including chairperson (69%), administration/secretary (56%), programme manager/director (55%), commercial/marketing (53%), and chief executive officer and manager (both 52%).

When asked whether people in the same position as them would disclose experiences of mental illness to others in their organisation, just 10% of respondents felt it was likely or very likely that they would, while approximately six-in-ten (58%) said that it would be unlikely or very unlikely that this would happen.

There was mixed evidence of how mental health and illness were perceived and treated in the workplace. Some respondents commented on the stigma attached to mental illness, explaining that it was seen as ‘weak’ and expressed their fear of being judged as inadequate. Others said how they had received valuable support from friends, colleagues and workplaces and that mental health was taken seriously.

Consequently, 57% of respondents said they preferred to receive mental health support from someone outside of their organisation/workplace; one-quarter (25%) wanted to receive support from someone inside and outside their organisation; and just 5% preferred to receive mental health support from someone inside their organisation. A former footballer who experienced a range of mental illnesses including anxiety, depression and substance use disorder and is now a coach, said:

“I was released from a professional contract at 19 years old and struggled for many years with my identity. I often identified myself as a failed footballer and couldn’t see a future. Living like this led to issues with alcohol and gambling. I graduated from university but didn’t see this as a success. For many years I felt I didn’t want to carry on with my life, but I carried on, surviving … I then reached out [for support] … I feel this support has helped me to come to terms with my own life … I now feel proud of what I do now and see a future for myself.”

Great Britain Paralympian, Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, has supported the survey after she chaired the government’s Duty of Care in Sport Review in 2017. She said:

“I was delighted that Edge Hill University and Ian Braid were able to contribute to the Duty of Care in Sport Review and have carried on the spirit of the review with this national survey into the mental health of people involved in sport and physical activity. Mental health within the sector was a vitally important part of the terms of reference of the review, and these findings show that mental illness can affect people across all sports and activities regardless of their role or status. It also shows how variable practice, organisational leadership and support for mental health is in this area.

“While much has been done to raise awareness of mental health within the sport and physical activity community over the last few years, the survey responses show there is still much more that can be done to better support people playing, exercising or working in the UK sport and physical activity sector. I hope this important research can be used to inform future policy and practice in the sector and help implement the recommendations of the Duty of Care in Sport Review.”

Professor Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill University, who led the research, said:

“We’re pleased to announce the findings of the first ever survey of its kind into the mental health of people who play sport, exercise or who work in the sport and physical activity sector. While we know that being physically active can have a positive impact on mental health, these results show that mental illness is common across all levels of sport and physical activity and is a particularly significant public health challenge at grassroots and community level. We hope our findings will bring about important cultural change in the sector so that mental health becomes the responsibility of everyone and is taken more seriously.”

Melanie Timberlake, 36, UK Coaching Disability Coach of the Year,said:

“When I was younger I used to play sport and run for my school and at county level, a lot for my own mental health, being active had a really positive impact for me and was a great way for me to escape. But after suffering injuries to my knees I couldn’t do this anymore and my mental health suffered even more. I felt I couldn’t cope with things as I had before. Since having my two children and fighting other health battles I again suffered with mental illness. It was when my children, who both have disabilities, decided that they wanted to play football and couldn’t find a suitable club to join, that I decided it was time for me to get back into sport.

“I didn’t want them thinking they couldn’t play sport because of their disability so I took up coaching. Coaching really drives me, I love it and I think if I didn’t have sport I’d fall to pieces. Coaching has been such a healing rewarding experience but it comes with its own challenges too. Being part of the sporting community has had a hugely positive impact on my wellbeing and I hope that by being open about my own battles with mental illness I can help the players I coach, and everyone I work with to better understand mental wellbeing and not be ashamed to ask for help and know that there is help and support out there.”

Ian Braid, Managing Director, DOCIAsport, said:

‘“When I was burnt out and signed off work at the British Athletes Commission I told a number of people in sport that I was mentally ill and the response surprised me. People opened up to me about their own wellbeing challenges and talked about others they knew who were suffering, usually in silence. Then, no one really knew the scale of mental health need in the sport and physical activity sector, yet it was one of the biggest challenges people encounter.

“I was delighted therefore to collaborate with Professor Andy Smith and the rest of the Edge Hill team, on the first ever nationwide survey into the mental health of the sport and physical activity workforce. The results announced today show that there is work to be done within the sector at all levels, and in all roles, if it is to maximise its contribution to the wellbeing of all workers and society more broadly.”

James Allen, Director of Policy, Governance and External Affairs, Sport and Recreation Alliance, said:

“I’m really proud to be launching this ground breaking work today into the mental health of the sport and recreation sector workforce. I’m delighted to have been given the opportunity by Edge Hill University and DOCIAsport to contribute and my hope now is that the many key findings are acted upon.

“Since first launching the Alliance’s mental health work in 2015 with the publication of the Mental Health Charter, I’ve been hugely heartened by the breadth of interest in mental health across the sector. I see this research as vital to the next stage – building on excellent work to date to bring greater depth to our collective understanding of the challenges faced by the workforce. I also hope that this research drives further interest in the fantastic resources already out there.”

To view the results please click here

If you have, or are currently affected by mental illness and would like to speak to someone please phone the Samaritans freephone number 116 123 or email [email protected] To find out about mental health advice and support in your area please visit https://hubofhope.co.uk

DOCIAsport has been established to offer a collaborative partnership service to National Governing Bodies (NGBs), member associations and Higher Education institutions providing independent advice, support and guidance on all aspects of Duty of Care in Action.

The Sport and Recreation Alliance believes that the power of sport and recreation can change lives and bring communities together. Together with our members and in partnership with the wider sector, we make the most of opportunities and tackle the areas that provide a challenge. We provide advice, support and guidance to our members and the sector, who represent traditional governing bodies of games and sport, county sports partnerships, outdoor recreation, water pursuits, and movement and dance exercise. As the voice of the sector, we work with government, policy makers and the media to make sure grassroots sport and recreation grows and thrives. Having an active nation is important as it delivers huge benefits to society and the millions of participants, volunteers, staff and spectators.




Flagship mental health programme shortlisted for national award


Edge Hill University and Everton in the Community’s flagship children’s mental health programme has been shortlisted for a national award for its positive impact across Merseyside.

Tackling the Blues (TtB), a sport and education-based mental health programme delivered in partnership with the official charity of Everton Football Club has been shortlisted by the UK Sports Journalists Association in their ‘Sport for Social Change’ category at the British Sports Awards.

Across Liverpool 78 per cent of five to 15-year-olds with anxiety or depression are not in contact with mental health services.

By working in schools across the city, TtB targets these children and young people as well of those who are at risk of developing mental illness.

Emoji bingo, peer mentoring and physical activities are used to increase self-esteem and reduce anxiety whilst helping them build positive relationships with peers and external agencies.

The latest impact report for TtB, which reaches over 650 young people in schools and community groups, also shows the programme increases confidence, improves decision making and mental health knowledge (literacy) and reduces isolation and loneliness. A 12-year-old participant, said:

“I think TtB is brilliant it made me think that if something has happened in the past you can talk to them (teachers/staff). When I got bullied online and felt sad I told one of your staff (running the session) and they helped me a lot. It helped me to be brave and not suffer all the  time because of it.”

Andy Smith, Professor of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill University, said:

“We’re delighted to be nominated for such a prestigious award which is attended by many of the major sports writers, editors, photographers and broadcasters. We’re the only university nominated, and the judging criteria considers impact, reach, sustainability and innovation. These are all key elements of the co-produced programme that we’ve delivered with Everton in the Community over the last three years and it’s very gratifying that its evidence-based impact in making a real difference to the lives of hundreds of children has been recognised once again.”

Michael Salla, Director of Health and Sport at Everton in the Community, said:

“Half of all adult mental illnesses – excluding dementia – are first experienced by the age of 14 so early intervention is vitally important. To be recognised by the sporting world for how we use sport as a tool to promote mental health awareness and tackle mental illness is fantastic and we have plans to develop the programme further over the coming months.”

The winner will be announced at an award ceremony in the Tower of London on 6 December. To read more about TtB please click here