Mental health support worldwide is often undermined by a lack of understanding of what mental health is, how to identify signs of poor mental health and where to seek support. One of the main obstacles to improving mental health care is the stigma that surrounds this area. Stigma creates a false picture of what mental health is and can make people unable to admit to themselves and others if they are struggling for fear of repercussions in their personal or professional lives.
This stigma around talking openly about mental health manifests itself in similar ways. For example it might be the fear of seeming weak or emotionally vulnerable that prevents people from seeking help if they are suffering from poor mental health. In Zambia, where our pilot programme is based, resistance to seeking support can come from a fear of being rejected by the community. This stigma is problematic because support from family and friends can be so beneficial to people suffering with poor mental health and this fear, whether real or imagined, can be very harmful.
Alive and Kicking undertook a period of consultation to find out how we could strengthen the impact of the education programmes we deliver across local communities. Feedback from partner organisations, local youth leaders and the recipients of our projects showed that there was a clear need for mental health education. This need for education has been supported by the research conducted by PRIME (Programme for Improving Mental Health Care – 2019 Impact Report) that shows good awareness of mental health is key to providing quality mental health support programmes in low resource settings.
With buy-in from the local community we created an effective sports-based education curriculum that focuses on understanding mental health and stigma, identifying signs of poor mental health and strategies for seeking support and improving emotional wellbeing.
We have partnered with Arsenal Community, the Premier League Charitable Fund and sixteen local sport for good organisations in Zambia to deliver the pilot. The curriculum is now being delivered in Lusaka with the support of local sports coaches, Arsenal coaches and local mental health experts. Having operated in Zambia for more than ten years we had the advantage of being able to rely on our existing networks across the country including schools, NGOs and sports and community organisations.
Despite the fact the programme is only a few months old, the initial impact results make encouraging reading. So far we have data on the effect that our mental health education programme has had on local coaches with impact information on young people expected from April. The improvements in knowledge, attitude and behaviour are exciting to see. In terms of knowledge of the
issue, coaches have improved by over 50% up to 97%. This has shown that mental health is now less of a scary concept and that everyone recognises that mental health is something that can change and that we all have it. More strikingly, the number of coaches that now know where to seek support with their mental health increased from 35% to 100%. If this was the only legacy of the project it would be significant that people are now aware that help is available if they need it.
While we have seen impressive improvements in the knowledge and attitudes of our coaches on mental health, we would not have expected to see improvements at this stage in behaviour around this issue. However, we have seen an increase from 35% to 55% of coaches who have now talked to someone about the other person’s or their own mental health. This suggests the potential dissemination of knowledge about mental health with family, friends and neighbours which in turn is creating some positive conversations that leave people feeling less isolated.
Coach Naomi (pictured) from Bauleni said ‘the programme has really changed the mind set of our children. I have seen the lives of those who have poor mental health respected and supported by our players. I personally really appreciate this programme and look forward to the impact continuing’
We have seen the impact that this programme has made and we would like to see this pilot develop into a full time programme once we have assessed the data from the beneficiaries of this project – the young people themselves. We have created our curriculum in partnership with local organisations so they can implement mental health educational activities themselves and we will continue to build a network of mental health-based organisations to help grow the concept sustainably; increasing access to services and support.
Together we can foster a generation who understand the importance of mental health and are happy to talk about it openly and seek support if needed.
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