Nurse researchers have found that organised football sessions can have a direct improvement on the lives of patients with mental health conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Participants in regular five-a-side football and walking football have reported a range of positive benefits from the sessions, according to the researchers from Abertay University.
“Being able to access these teams is huge for them”
Benefits included an enhanced ability to form and sustain relationships and friendships, improved fitness and health, and a feeling of peer support from team mates.
Since December 2015, Abertay nursing academics have been working with NHS Tayside and NHS Fife, which offers football sessions to people who have experience of mental health conditions.
Their study, which is due to be published in future, looked at four different groups, some of which have been playing together for as long as 15 years. Ages ranged from 18 to 60 and there is a mixture of male and female participants.
The football sessions take place at community centres in Tayside and Fife and are co-ordinated by mental health professionals such as nurses, physios, volunteers and sports coaches. The sessions are funded through the NHS with local authority support.
“These are specifically mental health football teams for service users”
Study author and mental health nurse Emma Lamont, said: “What we found is that when players went along to the football and perhaps weren’t having a good day then others could recognise this and say ‘I’ve been there, I know how you feel and it’s going to get better’.
She added: “Some players said that, at their worst, they had been unable to leave the house for months, but then after joining the football group gradually started feeling a little better.”
“These are specifically mental health football teams for service users who play as an aspect of care,” said Ms Lamont, a lecturer from the university’s division of mental health nursing and counselling.
“They compete in mental health leagues in Scotland and talked about going to these tournaments as a big motivator for them – they were proud of what they achieved,” she said. “If someone is acutely unwell and in hospital they can come to play football as therapy.”
At the beginning of the research, Ms Lamont held focus groups with the teams and asked an extensive range of questions.
She said: “Some of the men had been quite successful in football when they were younger and were in teams before mental health problems started and took away the chance to pursue a professional career.
“So being able to access these teams is huge for them. They really talked like this was life-changing and there was a real team-spirit and camaraderie developed through these sessions,” she said. “Many of them would go for a drink or a curry together, forming a lasting relationship.”
Ms Lamont is due to present the research, which was carried out with colleague Professor Geoff Dickens, to the Finnish Association for Mental Health when they visit Scotland on 3 April.