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To celebrate #menshealthweek, we’re sharing just some of the ways in which our services create safe and welcoming spaces for men to talk about their mental health.

Andy, our current manager at the Portsmouth Wellbeing Centre, explains more about their popular football group.

How did the idea for the football group start?

At the Portsmouth Wellbeing Centre, we provide group based mental health support to anyone in Portsmouth over 18 in need of some support. We have skills based courses such as anxiety and stress management, creative groups such as art therapy and sports activities such as badminton.

We were noticing that we had a few service users, both guys and girls, with an interest in football, so I began a small group in April 2016.  Initially those that came did not know each other or anything about the group, and some even required support from support workers or relatives be there. Since then it has developed and grown into a routine for those who attend.

Tell us about a typical weekly session. What kind of things do you do when you meet?

We meet once a week on Wednesday afternoons in Charles Dickens Centre, Lake Road. We have a small kick about and maybe a few games like crossbar challenge or penalty shoot-outs. Later, we get into a game which gets everyone moving and talking.

We rarely keep score, I don’t think I have ever known a final score from any of the games!

How is the football team different than other groups and activities that support mental health?

Physical activity is really beneficial to our mental health and has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as increasing your mood. The great thing about football is as a team sport, we’re encouraging communication skills and problem solving. The  group also get a sense of achievement and healthy competition which is good for building confidence.

It provides regular routine and a social aspect, something of which many of the people who come have not experienced for a long time, and the players have developed a strong bond between one another.

What do people get out of the group?

We have run evaluation research into the group and found that those who attended reported an increase in optimism, usefulness, closeness to others, confidence, an ability to deal with problems effectively, clear thinking, and reductions in depressive symptoms.

Aside from the statistics, we can see the group enjoying themselves and laughing during the sessions. Some of the guys arrive saying that they have had been struggling through the week and feeling low, but they know attending the group helps them to feel better – they still come, even if their mood is telling them to stay in bed.

Those who access the group have now begun to create their own team and enter into local 5-a-side leagues. This is brilliant to see as some of the group struggled to leave their homes not that long ago, and now they are reconnecting with their local community and joining mainstream football leagues.

This is exactly the sort of thing our groups are there for, to support people to reconnect with their local community and mainstream society.

The sporting world has recently had several high profile athletes (most recently England defender Danny Rose) talking publicly about their own mental health. Why is this important?

When you’re struggling it is common to feel as though you are the only one and that you are abnormal for feeling the way you do. Once professional sportsmen come out saying they have struggled with similar experiences, and your idols or heroes say these things, it has a massive impact.

We sometimes hear stories from retired sportsmen about their experience of a mental health issue, but for Danny Rose to share his story as he goes into a World Cup, is just phenomenal, fair play to him. It’s a great reminder that people with mental health problems can always achieve great things by seeking support and looking after their wellbeing.

How can people get involved with the football group or similar activities at the Portsmouth Wellbeing Centre?

Anyone who feels they need some support regarding any area of their mental health can access the groups at the Wellbeing Centre, including the football, so long as they are over 18 and have a GP in the Portsmouth area. People can contact us to discuss how to register, and we can even book in a time to come in, fill in a short form and meet the team before starting a course or joining a group.

For the football group, it doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself an experienced footballer, a complete novice or how you feel about your current fitness levels. It’s also worth mentioning that we’ve previously had women join the football group from time to time and have appeared in our competition teams. Everyone is welcome here.

You can contact Andy and the Portsmouth Wellbeing Centre team by calling 02392 824 795

or emailing PSRwellbeingcentre@solentmind.org.uk.

Find out more about our Wellbeing Centres

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