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7 Apr 2021 | 21:21

As part of our #AdaptSupportRespond initiative, the Coalition has been focusing on the role of sport and physical activity in tackling the mental health and wellbeing crisis brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Here Tony Li, Community Delivery Lead for Physical Activity at Mind, explains how the charity's nationwide 'Get Set to Go' programme will play its part.

Get Set to Go helps people find the physical activity that's right for them so that they are able to enjoy the physical, social and mental benefits of being active.

To date, Mind has delivered Get Set to Go in 25 communities across England and Wales through its local Mind network. Local Minds have worked with physical activity partners – especially EFL Club Community Organisations – to support over 9,000 people use the power of physical activity to support their mental health. The programme is underpinned by more than 300 volunteers who use their own lived experience of mental health problems to provide one-to-one and group peer support to participants.

The programme is free for participants. It is funded by Sport England, the National Lottery and our ‘On Your Side’ partnership with the English Football League (EFL).

Mind’s research shows that 60% of adults and 68% of children and young people have said that their mental health has deteriorated during the pandemic, many of whom had not experienced a mental health problem before. [1]

Clinical guidelines recommend physical activity as a treatment intervention for depression in adults[2], and children and young people[3]. It’s also a great way of supporting good mental health by reducing anxiety and stress, combatting low mood and having fun.

MEASURES

While the nature and scale of challenges have differed across the programme, the measures in place to control the pandemic have had a detrimental effect on the mental health of many of our participants.

Social isolation has been a key factor in this decline. The independent findings from the first phase of the Get Set to Go programme clearly highlighted the value participants place on building meaningful social connections at the sessions[4]

Local Minds have worked with their physical activity partners to put in place a range of measures to combat social isolation and keep participants engaged in the programme. It has been important to include both offline and online activities to minimise digital exclusion and ensure we reach as many people as possible.

Get Set to Go

These activities include: 

  • Delivering online group physical activities. 
  • Providing weekly social sessions by videocall or phone. 
  • Setting weekly challenges that individuals can do on their own either inside or outside of their homes. These have been complemented by a weekly social call where participants can discuss how the challenge went. 
  • Establishing closed social media messaging groups. These also provide staff with a valuable opportunity to curate the most relevant guidance about Covid-19 and physical activity; many participants have found the volume of information overwhelming. 
  • Organising small, face-to-face support group sessions that incorporate physically distanced outdoor activities, such as walking. These have been delivered in strict adherence to government guidance and are vital in supporting the mental health of some of the most vulnerable and isolated participants.  
  • Posting activity packs to those people who may not have digital access at home.  

The national physical activity team at Mind have also developed a number of resources to support local Minds, the physical activity sector and individuals. These include: 

  • Guidance for local Minds which summarises Government guidelines on delivering grassroots physical activity during the national lockdowns in England and Wales. 
  • Developing ‘Return to Play’ guidance for both individuals and the sport sector to help them prepare to return to activities. These are available on the Mind website
  • Creating a selection of activity sheets that can be downloaded from the Mind website

The above measures give a taste of the different methods used to support participants and physical activity sector colleagues through the pandemic and prime them for returning to face-to-face sessions.

RECOMMENCE

Despite the unprecedented and extremely challenging operating environment over the last year, the Get Set to Go programme has been a success. Local Minds tell us that participants have been keen to return to face-to-face activities, although there are some who have concerns about Covid-19 or returning to socialising in a group. The mix of online and face-to-face activities will expand the reach of the programme to people who may find it difficult to leave their homes or unready to be active amongst others.

Get Set to Go 2

Unfortunately, we have not been able to support as many participants to take on volunteering opportunities as we would have liked. This is work that takes time and potentially requires a lot of face-to-face support to build people’s confidence to take on more responsibility within the programme. It also requires opportunities to volunteer, many of which have been paused during the restrictions.  

Given the multiple challenges many of our participants have faced over the last year, the priority has been to keep people engaged in Get Set to Go. It is an area, however, that many local Minds have been aiming to revisit as face-to-face sessions recommence.

SUSTAINABILITY

The Get Set to Go model encompasses a number of pillars within the Five Ways to Wellbeing – most notably the ‘Be Active’ and ‘Connect’ components – which are an integral part of many local Mind strategies.  

Through physical activity local Minds have been able to provide a different approach to delivering mental health services, whilst forging new partnerships, and widened fundraising and funding opportunities.  

Many have worked with physical activity sector partners to apply for funding from grant-makers and commissioners to further resource their physical activity services. In some cases they have worked with participants to agree a charge for sessions (usually between £3-5).  

In addition to financial approaches to sustainability, local Minds have embedded elements of physical activity into existing mental health services to provide a more varied offer for their service users. They have also worked with their physical activity partners to agree in-kind arrangements: for example, offering mental health training and support for physical activity colleagues in exchange for free or discounted activity sessions.

OPPORTUNITY

We believe that sport and physical activity has an important role in supporting people to stay well and to live well with mental health problems, through participating, volunteering and spectating.  

As we build back better from Covid-19 we have an opportunity to embed mental health in the sport and physical activity sector and to embed physical activity within community mental health pathways.  

Over the next year we will continue to support the sport and physical activity sector to learn from people who have experienced inequalities, including those impacted by poverty, children and young people impacted by trauma, and racialised communities, to better understand how sport and physical activity can support their mental health. 

Respond to the call for evidence from Mind and the Sport for Development Coalition.


[1] Mind - The Mental Health Emergency: How has the coronavirus pandemic impacted our mental health  
[2] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – Depression in adults: recognition and management 
[3] National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – Depression in children and young people: identification and management 
[4]Mind - Get Set to Go Programme Evaluation Summary