TV and radio host Roman Kemp gives moving mental health advice to students

Radio and TV host Roman Kemp
Radio and TV host Roman Kemp

Television and radio star Roman Kemp gave a moving account of his own experiences of battling with mental health during a special event hosted by Edge Hill University. 

Roman gave a candid first-hand account of his mental health journey and reflected on the devastating loss of his radio producer best friend Joe Lyons to suicide in August last year, an experience which inspired him to pursue his emotional BBC documentary Our Silent Emergency

The documentary moved millions of viewers to tears across the UK when it aired earlier this year as it explored the mental health and suicide crisis gripping young men across the UK. 

Roman said: “I lost my best friend, my brother, my colleague…the happiest person I knew to suicide and it’s the most horrible thing that I’ve ever been through in my life. The realisation that you will never see your friend ever again and that you never understood the hurt that they had in their life is far worse than having a conversation with your friend and annoying them by repeatedly asking whether or not they are OK. 

“I set out to make the documentary to show that suicide isn’t something that is a problem for men having a ‘midlife crisis’, unfortunately it’s getting younger and younger. I wanted to figure out for myself what happened to my friend.  

“Since the age of 15 years old when I was diagnosed with clinical depression…there’s been moments where I’ve been at the lowest possible point. I have the most privileged life you can imagine, I have nothing seemingly wrong with my life, but I still got to a point where my life was not worth living. I felt like I should not be here anymore, and I felt like I wanted everything to stop.  

“Everyone has this idea that celebrities don’t suffer and if the influential people we see on  Instagram are talking about big subjects such as this, it can make a big difference. Anyone with that type of platform, I’d implore them to do the same.” 

Roman is now a patron of the mental health charity Joe’s Buddy Line, which was set up in legacy of his friend Joe. The charity aims to provide emotional and mental health support for school children across England and Wales. 

He joined a line-up of mental health experts for an open and honest conversation about mental health, including Andy Smith, a Professor of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill. 

Prof Smith has been at the forefront of ground-breaking research in sport, education and mental health including the award-winning mental health programme Tackling the Blues delivered in partnership between Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool to promote young people’s mental health in education through sports, physical activity and the arts. 

He said: “Over half of all symptoms of mental illness, excluding dementia, are first experienced by the age of 14. So, it’s really important that we begin to tackle mental health and mental illness among children and young people in schools, in our communities, universities and colleges. 

“At a simple level, mental health is everyone’s responsibility and if we take that responsibility serious it will benefit not only ourselves but everyone…and hopefully we will find ourselves in a much better position than we do now.”  

Prof Smith’s expertise has also been central to the work of the Rugby League Cares Offload programme, which resulted in 78% of men reporting feeling more aware of how to look after their health and wellbeing. 

Prof Andy Smith

Former offload participant Kev Smith had battled mental health and depression for a number of years. Joining the Rugby League Cares acclaimed men’s mental fitness project allowed him to learn from current and former players the techniques they use to be able to manage his own mental and physical fitness.  

Kev said: “The hardest part was taking that first step through the door. After that, you can take your mask off and be who you really are in front of the people in that room. In there you’re not alone, there are other people there who have been through the same problems. As a man, it’s hard having to explain to people what you’re going through and to admit you have a problem. Thanks to the Offload programme I’m now 10 years sober and have got a family of my own with my wife and children. I’ve got something to live for.” 

Other panellists included Olivia Izzo, an Edge Hill student mentor on the Tackling the Blues programme who is encouraging children and young people to open up about their mental health through the arts and sport; and sportspeople who have battled with their own mental health. 

Chairing the event was Mike Salla, Director of Health and Sport at Everton in the Community, the official charity of Everton Football Club. Mike oversees a broad range of mental health specific projects and is leading on the development of The People’s Place; a purpose-built mental health hub adjacent to Goodison Park. 

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. 

Tackling the Blues launches new bitesize mental health programme

Tackling the Blues, an award-winning sport and arts-based education programme, has 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 new five-week programme BLUES has responded to the pupil mental health and wellbeing concerns faced by schools in the partnership.

BLUES stands for:  

  • Boosting your mood 
  • Loneliness 
  • Uncertaintyand dealing with it 
  • Emotions: anxiety and frustration 
  • Self-care and checking in

The programme is underpinned by the New Economics Foundation’s Five Ways to Wellbeing, with Edge Hill University students designing the programme in their roles as Tackling the Blues student mentors. The 48 student mentors have developed content to help schools across Merseyside and West Lancashire with the aim to connect to whole school approaches to mental health and wellbeing.

Professor of Sport and Physical Activity, Andy Smith, and Dr Helen O’Keeffe, from the Faculty of Education, both lead on the project at Edge Hill. They said: “This past year has been an incredibly testing time for teachers and pupils across the country. That’s why it’s more important than ever that teachers are empowered with the tools to support better mental health and wellbeing for their pupils.

“We can’t wait to return to delivering the programme in person and are aiming to be in a position, restrictions permitting, to deliver the full Tackling the Blues programme following the Easter break.”

Lathom Park Primary School in Ormskirk is one of the schools enrolled on the BLUES programme. Teacher Evan Fraser said the programme has “provided an insight into how important it is to focus on emotional literacy”, and for their pupils to understand their own mental health and wellbeing.

Michael Salla, Director of Health and Sport at Everton in the Community said: “Our Tackling the Blues programme has continued to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing landscape since its launch in 2015 and in particular the last 12-months. The introduction of the online BLUES Bitesize programme is the latest addition to the programme and something that will also be utilised to meet the mental health and wellbeing of needs of children nationally and internationally.

Supported by funding from the Office for Students, Research England and the Premier League Charitable Fund, Tackling the Blues uses a student focussed model to provide innovate ways in engaging students in knowledge exchange to improve their knowledge, understanding and experiences of mental health in education in local communities. 

Dr Deborah Riding, Programme Manager, Children & Young People at Tate Liverpool said: “Being able to deliver this activity online to schools during lockdown, using arts and sport to help get positive mental health messages out to young people, has been a significant achievement.

“The online sessions the partners have developed together has helped give schools flexibility at a time when they needed it and is beneficial to them and the pupils as an on-going resource. It has also provided a great opportunity for the student mentors to develop their digital skills which will be a huge asset to them when seeking employment.”

For more information about Tackling the Blues, visit its dedicated Twitter page @TacklingBlues.

Performer turned 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 currently 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.

As a mentor, Olivia is hoping to use her creative flair to help children and young people to express their feelings through the arts.

Olivia, who is originally from South East London, said: “When I was younger, mental health was not a conversation in schools. As a result, we are finding more and more children who are reaching adolescence and are experiencing major mental health crises, because they are struggling and don’t know how to communicate their feelings.”

According to the Children’s Society, 10 per cent of children and young people aged 5 to 16 have a clinically diagnosable mental health problem, yet 70 per cent of children and adolescents who experience problems with their mental health have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently young age.

Alongside its existing sports and physical activity programmes, Tackling the Blues recently welcomed Tate Liverpool to the partnership to establish a new arts strand to encourage young people to use art as a tool to explore, understand and increase their mental health literacy.

Olivia said: “Art therapy can help at any age but if we specifically focus on children and young people then it’s a really useful approach. For a child, being able to draw and create with me beside them provides them with so much more freedom.

Depending on the age, some children don’t have the language to explain how they’re feeling or tell me they are worried, but they might be able to draw a picture which resembles how they are feeling. Combining what they enjoy doing with something that might feel a bit uncomfortable is a really powerful approach.”

Having enjoyed a career on stage, Olivia explains how her desire to help others with their mental health stems from seeing others struggle to express their emotions and suffer as a consequence.

She said: “I’m fortunate that I’ve always been a very expressive person and open with my emotions and I know how this isn’t the case for everyone.

“Programmes like Tackling the Blues are so important to kick-start the conversation about mental health at an early age. The programme helps children to not just talk about it but allows them to recognise what their feelings are and process them.

“Now more than ever, it’s vital that we are setting the right example to children and young people by empowering them to have the tools in place to recognise and understand their emotions and know that it’s a sign of strength to talk about their feelings.”

Since its launch in 2015, Tackling the Blues has engaged over 1,000 young people across Merseyside and West Lancashire.

In 2020, the programme received a £527,000 funding award from the Office for Students and Research England in recognition of the vital impact it has on the student experience. The programme received the award for demonstrating the benefits it brings to students, graduate and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities.

For more information and the latest news about Tackling the Blues follow us on Twitter. 

Tackling the Blues welcomes six new recruits as part of expansion programme

Top L-R: Rachel Wilcock, Aston Monro, Dr Emma Curd
Bottom L-R: James Ratcliffe, Emily McCurrie, Phil McClure

Award-winning mental health programme Tackling the Blues has appointed six new recruits to grow activities at a time when mental health has never been more important. 

Delivered by Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool, the programme promotes mental health in education through sports, physical activity and the arts.  

Tackling the Blues is delivered by students and staff across Edge Hill’s Department of Sport and Physical Activity and Faculty of Education and, since its launch in 2015, has engaged with almost 1,000 young people across Merseyside and West Lancashire.  

Funding for the new recruits follows on from a £527,000 funding award from the Office for Students and Research England earlier this year in recognition of the vital impact it has on the student experience. The programme received the award for demonstrating the benefits it brings to students, graduates and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities. 

Emily McCurrie has joined Edge Hill’s Faculty of Education as the Partnership Development and Engagement Manager and will spend the first two years of her post leading the operational activity of Tackling the Blues. Prior to joining the programme, Emily lived in Scotland for 18 years, where she studied health psychology and worked as a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist in the NHS. 

Emily will focus on developing partnership engagement with schools and education providers to create opportunities for student employability, work experience and enrichment activities. 

Tate Liverpool has appointed Dr Emma Curd and Phil McClure as Tackling the Blues Coordinators to oversee the development and delivery of the new arts strand and they will work to encourage young people to use art as a tool to explore, understand and aid their emotional health and wellbeing. 

Emma is an artist, facilitator and researcher, who uses creative and participatory methods to create spaces for discussion, collaboration and co-production. During her career, she has facilitated workshops and learning programmes in galleries, museums, libraries and higher education institutions, while Phil was previously the Lead for Participation and Democracy at Halton Youth Provision, where he supported young people dealing with issues around substance abuse, hidden harm and emotional health and wellbeing. In addition to this, he led on LGBTQ+ youth work in the borough. 

Everton in the Community has recruited James Ratcliffe as a new Tackling the Blues Coordinator to help develop the programme’s sports and physical activity strand. James previously completed his MSc in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health at Edge Hill, where he gained experience as a lead mentor on Tackling the Blues. 

Edge Hill has recruited two Research Assistants, Rachel Wilcock and Aston Monro, who will be responsible for measuring the impact of the programme on children and young people and will evaluate how student mentors benefit from knowledge exchange opportunities. 

Rachel joins the team following three years in another Research Assistant role at Edge Hill, where she conducted programme evaluations for community-based programmes that address mental health and suicide concerns in the North West.  

Aston has recently graduated from Edge Hill with an MSc in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health, during which time he received a bursary from the UEFA Foundation to work alongside Tackling the Blues as a mentor and researcher. 

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

Prof Smith said: “It is fantastic to be expanding our team as we reach such a significant point in the programme’s journey. 

“To date, Tackling the Blues has engaged with a thousand young people across Merseyside and West Lancashire with the aim to positively impact the lives and mental health of our communities. In such uncertain times for the world, we are looking forward to extending our reach and influence to help even more children and young people in the region to promote mental, physical and emotional literacy and improve their self-esteem and confidence, with the help of our student community.” 

Michael Salla, Everton in the Community Director of Health and Sport, said: “Building on the success of the programme since its launch in 2015, this addition of high-quality staff will allow us to better address the increasing prevalence of poor mental health among children and young people. The programme has demonstrated significant improvements with increasing mental wellbeing, reducing anxiety and increasing physical activity levels, which are all key areas and particularly during the current pandemic.”  

Dr Deborah Riding, Programme Manager, Children & Young People at Tate Liverpool, said: “Working in partnership with Edge Hill University and Everton in the Community in this way gives us, collectively, an exciting opportunity to embed a new way for children and young people with their schools and communities to engage with mental health. More than ever, given the current situation, children and young people need opportunities to develop their confidence and resilience through creative and cultural activity, raising aspirations and positively impacting on their wellbeing. We hope the expansion of the project can make a significant difference in the lives of many children and young people across the North West.” 

From January 2021, the Tackling the Blues team is excited to recommence its engagement activities with schools across the region. Click here to find out the latest news about Tackling the Blues.

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