Supporting your people with their mental health
Everybody has mental health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as a state of wellbeing in which people can realise their own abilities, cope with everyday life stresses, work productively, and contribute to their community. 1 in 4 of us however will experience mental health problems in any one year (Bebbington and McManus, 2020)
Mental health problems can present themselves in many ways. Some of the most common examples, include:
- Mixed anxiety and depression.
- Generalised anxiety disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Eating disorders.
Mental health problems can affect how people think, feel, act, and their engagement in clubs, groups, or other social activities. Sport and physical activity can help to build resilience, tackle stigma, and help support mental health recovery. Grassroots organisations can be vibrant, welcoming environments to socialise and develop skills. Lots take an active interest in the wellbeing of their people. As such, it’s important to create safe, inclusive spaces and seek to understand problems and promote positive mental health.
This webpage outlines how you can support yourself and others. The page concludes with further guidance, information, and development/learning opportunities to explore.
You may already be supporting people’s mental health without realising. Directly talking about mental health can feel daunting, but taking action provides real benefits for you, your organisation, and its people. Action can include starting conversations, developing policies, or creating a culture that makes people feel safe and comfortable. The benefits can include:
- Improved mental health of your participants, volunteers, and workforce for example improved mood, reduced stress, or increased self-esteem.
- A stronger person-focussed culture that’s appealing to new members.
- Greater community awareness and ability to respond to people’s needs.
- Forging new relationships with relevant local organisations, who can provide referral pathways.
- Sustained organisational commitment due to reduced absenteeism.
- Reduced need for NHS or private service intervention.
- Professional development and better awareness that is transferable to other areas of life or work.
- Reduced stigma around talking openly about mental health.
- Enhanced understanding and ability to reflect on your own mental health and capacity to help others.
It’s important to look after your own wellbeing. By looking after yourself, you’ll also be better equipped to support others.
Listening and responding to others’ mental health problems can be triggering or upsetting, so it’s important to put yourself in the best position to deal with it. Mind’s self-care activities and guidance on how to prioritise your mental health, focus on:
- Relaxing and reducing stress.
- Finding ways to learn and be creative.
- Spending time in nature.
- Connecting with others.
- Looking after your physical health.
- Getting enough sleep.
Consider accessing these before assisting others.
Looking after, and having open conversations about, the
mental health of your people is an important part of creating
a safe, inclusive culture at your organisation.
Sometimes it’s obvious when someone’s finding things difficult but at other times there may be no apparent signs. Consistent, open, communication’s essential to help remove stigma and let conversations develop naturally. They’re however some signs to look out for that might indicate someone’s experiencing poor mental health (National Accident Helpline):
- Change of mood.
- Low confidence.
- Loss of appetite.
- Extreme tiredness.
- Increased irritability.
- Substance abuse.
- Drastic weight loss or gain.
- Other notable changes in behaviour.
Time to Change’s #AskTwice campaign recommends asking how people are feeling twice, to provoke a more honest response.
Within your organisation, it’s important to try to have some staff/volunteers with mental health experience or training. You should already have a designated welfare and safeguarding officer (or similar) but consider who is best placed to have these conversations. Think about who people will feel most comfortable with.
It’s important to understand
mental health problems become a safeguarding and risk management issue. Mind’s
guidance on boundaries
and people at risk of harm and
our content on adult
safeguarding can help you.
Having mental health champions is beneficial. They don’t need to be experts. Starting the conversation can be the hardest part. When managing the conversation, Mind suggest thinking about:
- Finding a quiet, comfortable, place that feels informal to have a chat.
- How to give the person your full attentional and use empathetic language.
- Ensuring you have enough time to let people talk openly.
- The number of questions you ask, try not to overload them.
- The language you use and avoiding cliches like “pull yourself together”, instead use the words they use to validate their feelings.
- How to remind them that lots of people struggle and mental health problems are more common than you’d think.
may come to a natural end with obvious follow up actions. If this isn’t the
case, it’s important to know what to do next. Consider if anything that’s been
shared is a safeguarding or risk management concern or must be passed on to a
parent, carer or third party. Often, this won’t be the case, and it’ll be best
to just summarise the conversation and any agreed actions i.e., catching up
soon, speaking with a GP, sharing details of local supportive charities.
Sometimes clear actions are not obvious, and the person
simply needed a listening ear. Not needing immediate further support does not
invalidate the person’s feelings, nor does it mean your conversation was unnecessary. Supporting mental
health in any capacity is good.
Supporting people’s mental health might not always involve a direct conversation, it can be supported by:
- Having a welcoming, positive and inclusive environment.
- Avoiding activities, kit or events that might make certain groups uncomfortable.
- Celebrating successes.
- Running wellbeing programmes.
- Offering social events to bring friends, families, and communities together.
- Having easily accessible information on other resources and support channels.
Further support and resources
Whether it is looking after your own mental health,
supporting others, signposting within your organisation or encouraging
staff/volunteers to do some training, the following resources, links and contacts are a useful starting point:
- Sport England Mental Health information - https://www.sportengland.org/funds-and-campaigns/mental-health.
- Mind information and support - https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/.
- Mind’s sport specific information and resources – www.mind.org.uk/sport
- Club Matters creating inclusive environments - https://www.sportenglandclubmatters.com/participant-development/reaching-different-audiences/how-to-create-an-inclusive-environment/.
- Mental health awareness for sport and physical activity+ - https://www.ukcoaching.org/courses/elearning-courses/mental-health-awareness-for-sport-plus
- Mental health and physical activity toolkit - https://www.mind.org.uk/media/7594/mind-mental-and-physical-activity-toolkit-guide-2.pdf
- Mind Infoline – call 0300 123 3393.
- Samaritans – call 116 123.
- SHOUT – text 85258.