16/03/2018 00:01 GMT | Updated 16/03/2018 00:01 GMT

Millions Of People With Mental Health Issues Could Be Helped By This Fitness Scheme

Mind and Sport England are hoping to help make exercise more accessible and inclusive.

When Sujan first joined Wolverhampton-based running group Jolly Joggers, which forms part of Sport England and Mind mental health charity’s pilot scheme, she admits she was was very nervous. “I suffer from panic attacks and anxiety attacks, so the idea of going to a new group was a bit scary,” she said. “It was hard at first to get the motivation to go but once you’re there it’s brilliant because everyone is in the same boat as you.”

Sujan is one of thousands of people with mental health issues who benefitted from Get Set to Go, the pilot scheme by Mind and Sport England to help more people with mental health problems access and benefit from physical activity. Now the scheme looks set to expand - potentially benefitting up to 2.8m people - after Sport England awarded Mind £1.5 million in National Lottery funding. 

Mind

The scheme has already provided over 3,500 people - like Sujan - with physical activities including gym, football, badminton, walking, boccia and ultimate frisbee - combined with group and one-on-one peer support, and Mind’s safe and supportive online social network Elefriends.

Participants have said they felt more able to take part in exercise, doing so on average 1.3 days more than before the scheme. They believe the scheme also benefitted their mental health and ability to deal with anxiety, panic attacks and even suicidal thoughts.

“When I don’t go jogging I feel quite down and lethargic, so it’s become an important part of my routine now that I go for a jog at least once a week,” Sujan said. “I can go jogging on my own now, which I never used to do before. I’ve made new friends which I keep in touch with and we go jogging together.” 

Despite the proven benefits on physical activity and mental health, there are still significant barriers stopping people being active. Mind research suggests four fifths (80%) of people with mental health problems are too self-conscious about their bodies to take part in sport, while 70% believe their illness is too big a barrier. Nearly two thirds (64%) were also worried about taking part in sport by themselves.

Jade has been participating in boxing classes, as part of Mind’s Get Set To Go and credits it with helping her to manage her mental health. Before joining the scheme she said she drank, self-harmed and didn’t look after herself.

“I still struggle with suicidal thoughts and feelings, but since taking up boxing I’m better equipped to deal with things when I’m not feeling well, and I have a good support network around me,” she said. “When I found Get Set to Go, I discovered I that I wasn’t alone in how I was feeling. The instructor is great. Boxing makes me feel better both physically and mentally. Before boxing sessions I didn’t want to live. I didn’t know how to go about sorting things out. Instead of punching myself, now I punch the gloves!”

Boxing has also given her the confidence to go on to volunteer at Mind’s Crystal Palace charity shop - where she has flourished.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We know that physical activity can play a vital role in the lives of people with mental health problems, reducing the risk of depression by up to 30%.

“Unfortunately we also know that many people who do want to participate in sport are being held back by their mental health, whether that’s feelings of low self-confidence, exhaustion or fear of crowded spaces.

“The findings of the Get Set to Go programme show us that it works as a model; improving participants’ resilience and building their support networks, particularly through peer support, which harnesses the power of people’s own experiences to support others and be supported. With Sport England’s backing we look forward to working even more closely with the sport and physical activity sector to build on the success of Get Set to Go over the next three years.” 

To find out more about how you can get involved in physical activities in your local area get in touch with your local Mind or to get inspired about finding the right activity for you try getsettogo.mind.org.uk