Posted on Fri 23 Feb 2018 at 10:28 by Christopher Carter
In this guest blog to mark Mental Health Awareness Week and the start of this year's Varsity tournament, Neil Gordon (Chair of the SU's Sports Exec), talks about the influence that sporting activity can have on mental health.
This week is both Mental Health Awareness Week and that time of year where we give Cov a good ol’ thrashing in Varsity, so there really isn’t a better time to talk about sport and mental health! Research conducted by Mind showed that "physical activity has an important role to play in building resilience, enabling and supporting mental health recovery and tackling stigma and discrimination". For many people with mental health issues, participating in sport serves as a great outlet, and the team camaraderie which comes with many sports can help to ease feelings of isolation which they may be having. Mind runs the ‘Get Set to Go’ scheme, which offers specially-designed physical activities aimed at people with mental health issues. The aim of these sessions is to improve wellbeing, and to start conversations about mental health in a supportive environment.
The picture isn’t always as rosy as these positive links between participation in sport and mental health suggest, however. For some, sport can become an unhealthy obsession, exacerbating or even creating mental health problems instead of helping ameliorate them. Competitive sporting contexts and the desire to push yourself can morph from healthy motivation into self-shaming and feelings of failure. As a runner, I’ve experienced both sides of the sport/mental health coin. Going for a run can provide a great destress after a long day or week, allowing me to relax, refocus, and remind myself that there are other things in the world than work. I love my sport, and, like many other runners of my age, I regularly compete. In a sport like running, where it is often you against the clock, competition can have a darker side. Having a bad run whilst training for a race, or failing to perform as well as I’d hoped on race day has left me feeling utterly deflated, angry at myself for not pushing harder, even if I truly did give it my all. Similarly, not being able to run because of injury has had negative consequences for my mental health – one injury picked up during a race left me both unable to walk and extremely reluctant to get out of bed in the mornings. When injury stops me running, I find myself more irritable and short with people than normal, and that isn’t me.
This isn’t to say that sport is bad for mental health – it can and does do wonderful things for the wellbeing of thousands – but the negative effect that it can have on otherwise generally chipper individuals like me shows that we should always be wary of the implications of our relationship with sport. Despite the sometimes-negative effects it has had on me, I love my sport, and would encourage anyone with mental health issues to get involved in the great schemes run by charities like Mind.
Here’s the link: https://www.mind.org.uk/sport.
SU Sports Exec Chair