How the 'beautiful game' can help those with mental health needs return to work
Authors: Robert Elston
Chief Executive of Status Employment,
11 June 2014
On the 25 May at 5.30pm along with 20,000 other people I had my heart in my mouth, followed by utter jubilation. The reason for this strange behaviour was that my local football team Rotherham United had just won a penalty shootout in a Wembley play off final. Sport has always played an important part in my life; being active allows me time to think, keeps me fit and, I believe, significantly reduces my stress levels but ultimately it makes me feel good about life and myself.
Why am I sharing this? It is to explain why Status Employment believes that sport has a huge part to play in our core mission to help people with severe and enduring mental health needs to get and keep a job.
We have taken a practical approach to tackling the issue of health by setting up our own football team Status Addicks which is open to any candidate referred to us by the community mental health team who is currently not in employment. The football team links back into Status Employment with access to an Employment Advisor and potentially an Individual Placement and Support (IPS) – a successful method for supporting people with a mental illness into sustained employment.
Being part of a football team brings considerable health benefits. It provides opportunities for people with mental health issues to engage in regular exercise in an open and comfortable setting. And it is not only physical health benefits - team sports also have considerable positive psychological and social effects. Regular sports activities help people bounce back quicker, and remain confident that they will be able to find a job. It builds up individual resilience and self-confidence by ‘changing their language’ and helping to remove the self-stigma that many people with mental illness experience.
With training provided by Charlton Athletic Football Club, Status Addicks plays against other teams whose members also are experiencing mental health problems. Playing as part of a competitive football league - South London Grassroots League in this case - is also key. Playing competitively, not just in friendlies, helps people to become more motivated and engaged. Being in a football team helps people feel connected to the outside world. The social aspect of a football team is important in building up friendships and a network of support - as well as contacts who may hear about any potential job prospects . ‘Status Addicks’ players also have the option of a more structured programme of support - the ‘Work Preparation Course with Sport Activities’. This programme combines two days of work preparation skills and one morning a week participation in a variety of sports with Charlton Athletic FC's coaches.
We cannot deal with the issue of employment in isolation. Instead of threatening and punishing people into work, we should be looking at alternative methods such as those which promote physical activity and use sport to help people feel better about themselves and to help them make more positive , proactive decisions.
However, preparing and supporting people to take on the challenges of job-hunting is only one stage of the process. It is also vital that we make sure we have suitable, supported employment available to help people with mental health issues stay in work once they are ready to take that step.
Status Employment featured as a case study in the recently launched report about men's health and unemployment 'Sick of being Unemployed' with the Men's Health Forum.
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