Widespread support for Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation
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Widespread support for Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation

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Major sports organisations are taking a stand against discrimination towards mental health sufferers in sport by signing up to a charter.

The Rugby Football Union, the England and Wales Cricket Board, United Kingdom Athletics and the Football Association are among the 20 organisations who have signed the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation, which will raise awareness of and tackle issues around mental health.

With exercise proven to be as effective as antidepressants for those with mild clinical depression, the charter will also encourage more people to take up sport to help with their mental and physical health.

Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, who has been instrumental in pushing through a number of improvements for treatment of mental health, hailed the charter as a momentous step forward. “For the very first time we’re standing together to help kick mental health discrimination out of sport, not just on the pitches, but across the playgrounds, so that we can build a fairer society in which no one has to suffer in silence,” he said.

The Sport and Recreation Alliance and the Professional Players Federation have been responsible for rallying support for the charter. Chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, Emma Boggis, said: “This is one of those areas where sport and physical activity really can change lives, but there’s not enough awareness of it as a treatment or as a way of preventing people from falling into poor mental health in the first place. If a top athlete suffers problems, we want to reframe that relationship so that people understand sport is a positive place for conversations about mental health.”

Last year, mental health charity MIND called for a national network to tackle mental health in sport after a number of high profile sportspeople spoke out about their own mental health struggles.

MIND chief executive, Paul Farmer, is delighted about this development: “Sport brings people together. We are looking forward to working closely with the SRA, Sport England and sporting bodies to incorporate mental health into their strategies to make sport more accessible to people with mental health problems and use it as a force for social change.”

The Mental Health Charter will encourage physical activity and social interaction among mental health sufferers; promote positive messages using diverse role models; adopt positive policies; tackle discrimination and support the establishment of a platform to share networks, resources and best practice.

With one in six Brits experiencing mental health issues, this is a problem which needs tackling. Mental health costs the UK economy £105.2bn a year and NHS and social care costs are over £21bn, while absence and unemployment costs are £30bn.

Mental health is the largest single cause of disability in the UK and 75 per cent of adult mental health problems start before the age of 18. Obese, or overweight, children are more at risk. Indeed, obese people have a 55 per cent increased risk of developing depression, compared to those with a healthy weight, while people with depression have a 58 per cent increased risk of becoming obese.

There is also a strong relationship between mental ill health and physical ill health, where people have two or more long term physical illnesses, the chance of depression is seven times higher.

However, physical activity is as effective as medication in treating depression. A 16-week study of 202 men and women found that 45 per cent of patients diagnosed with major depression no longer met the criteria for depression after exercising three times a week, in a supervised group setting. This compares with 47 per cent of patients who no longer met the criteria after taking anti-depressants.

Physical activity in natural environments is associated with a reduction in risk of poor mental health to a greater extent than physical activity in other environments.

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Major sports organisations are taking a stand against discrimination towards mental health sufferers in sport by signing up to a charter.