Children and young people’s mental health programme celebrates record year

Edge Hill University’s Tackling the blues mentors at Ormskirk High

The award-winning children’s mental health programme, Tackling the Blues, is celebrating a milestone year after supporting a record number of new children and young people across the North West. 

The sport, art and education-based mental health awareness programme, delivered by Edge Hill University in partnership with Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool, has successfully engaged with more than 1,500 children and young people across 20 schools in Merseyside and West Lancashire over the past 12 months. 

Founded in 2015, Tackling the Blues is delivered by staff and students from the Department of Sport and Physical Activity and the Faculty of Education at Edge Hill University and is designed to improve the mental health literacy of children and young people aged six to 16 who are experiencing, or at risk of developing, mental illness.  

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: “To have reached a record number of new children and young people, despite the challenges the past year has presented, bears testament to the hard work and dedication of the Tackling the Blues team. Our student mentors and our partner schools have worked tirelessly to ensure that we can continue to empower the next generation with the knowledge and skills needed to improve their mental health literacy.” 

Dr O’Keeffe added: “Thanks to the efforts of the Tackling the Blues team, more than 1,500 children and young people have joined us on the journey to break the stigma around mental health. We’re looking forward to the future and will be building on the successes of the last 12 months to reach even more children and young people through our growing range of delivery models.” 

Figures for the last academic year also revealed that more than 600 Edge Hill students have engaged directly with the programme through mentoring and mental health training opportunities. More than 500 students received Ambassador of Hope training, delivered by national mental health charity Chasing the Stigma, which focuses on how to talk about mental health and illness, how to effectively find help and signpost using the Hub of Hope resources and what to do in a mental health emergency. 

The past year also saw more than 500 students engage with external artists and Everton in the Community staff. 

With the COVID-19 pandemic putting a stop to in-person mentoring sessions, Edge Hill’s student mentors launched a series of online bitesize lessons, called BLUES, to help teachers support children and young people’s mental health during lockdown. 

Jack Mullineux, Tackling the Blues Lead Coordinator at Everton in the Community (EitC), said: “Tackling the Blues has grown significantly during the last 12 months with the addition of an arts strand, complimenting the current sports strand which has been developed by EitC.  

“Throughout the year, the programme continued to support children and young people with an online and in-person approach which was delivered by mentors from Edge Hill.  This approach has enabled the programme to expand its reach and support more school groups and children and young people throughout primary and secondary schools in Merseyside and West Lancashire. Due to the expansion of the programme, additional student opportunities will be available in a lead and support mentoring capacity.” 

Alison Jones, Programme Manager, Public & Community Learning at Tate Liverpool, said: “It has been wonderful to be able to use art to connect with so many young people over the last year and help them unlock their creativity to improve their mental health literacy. The development of the online sessions during COVID-19 also highlight the importance of being able to access these resources when times get tough and the number of children and young people engaging in the programme is a testament to that.” 

The programme received a £527,000 funding award from the Office for Students and Research England in 2020/2021, in recognition of the vital impact it has had on the student experience and the benefits it brings to students, graduates and external partners through involvement in knowledge exchange activities. 

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 innovative ways in engaging students in knowledge exchange to improve their knowledge, understanding and experiences of mental health in education and local communities.   

If you are interested in finding out more about Tackling the Blues or are a student from the Faculty of Education or the Department of Sport and Physical Activity who is interested in participating as a mentor in the 2021/2022 academic year are encouraged to visit the new Tackling the Blues website to find out more informationor visit @TacklingBlues on Twitter. 

Everton legend Snodin goes back to school to ‘Tackle the Blues’

Everton legend Ian Snodin (centre) joins pupils from St. John’s Primary School for a Tackling the Blues session

Everton legend Ian Snodin went back to school this week to support Tackling the Blues, the award-winning project run by Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community (EitC) and Tate Liverpool which uses sport and the arts to help schoolchildren at risk of developing mental health problems. 

The 57-year-old was at St. John’s Primary School in Southport, one of a number of schools supported by the project which is being featured as part of this week’s national MadeAtUni campaign highlighting the role universities play in supporting their local communities and their health and wealth recovery from the impact of Covid. 

The project so far has reached over 2,000 pupils across the Northwest region, combining classroom well-being mentoring sessions with sport, physical activity and the arts to contribute to the prevention and early intervention of mental health problems in children and young people. Student mentors from Edge Hill University deliver the sessions in schools, helping to support their employability opportunities after graduating. 

Throughout this school year, Tackling the Blues has held virtual online sessions with schools in response to growing concerns about pupils’ well-being during lockdown but returned to the classrooms across the region during April. 

The programme also responded with delivering one day Tackling the Blues inputs to reach new schools – just in time for the end of term. Snodin, who is an Everton Ambassador took part in special end of term sports day celebration with pupils from the school and staff from Edge Hill and EitC. 

Said Snodin of his visit to the project: “I loved it and I’ve missed being able to do this sort of thing. I’ve got grandchildren myself, so I know how difficult it’s been for these children over the last year or so because they’re used to going to school and being with their friends. 

“It’s been tough for them being at home during the lockdowns, so for Everton in the Community, Edge Hill University and Tate Liverpool to have come together like this to help them during those times and now be able to get back in the classroom with them is fantastic. From the minute we walked in you could see the smile on their faces.” 

Leah, 10, who took part in the session, said: “I really like being part of Tackling the Blues, the mentors are amazing. My favourite part is the PE sessions because I love doing sport even though sometimes, I might not win. Being around a famous ex- Everton footballer was great because I support Everton. Most people in my family support Everton as well so I can’t wait to tell them.

“We do lots of mental health and well-being as well as the sport. It’s really helped build up my confidence, and helped me to talk to new people.” 

Emily McCurrie, Partnership Development & Engagement Manager at Edge Hill University, project manages Tackling the Blues said: “It was fantastic to be here and see the project in action with the children and the mentors from the University. To have Ian here to support the day has been brilliant and to see all the hard work that Everton in the Community, the University and Tate Liverpool put in, and the impact it has on the children is great. 

“Having the three different partners delivering the project brings a number of benefits in terms of helping the schools to tackle mental health with the children, and it’s brilliant to see it all come together. The children are learning how to deal with their emotions and this, along with helping their mental health literacy, is so important especially with everything that’s happened in the last year.

“There is often a perception that universities exist separately from their communities but projects like Tackling the Blues show that isn’t the case.” 

For more information on Tackling the Blues visit their website. To find out more about MadeAtUni visit [email protected].

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 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.

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

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.