Impact News

Responding to Violence, Suicide, Psychosis and Trauma

Football Foundation project sees mental health sufferers coping through football’

press release   date 02/12/2007


Project to be launched by Sports Minister at Emirates Stadium uses sport to address symptoms, avoiding over-reliance on drugs and potentially saving NHS money

An innovative new project which uses football to alleviate the symptoms of mental illness is to be launched by Minister for Sport Gerry Sutcliffe MP next week at the Football Foundation Mental Health Summit.

Coping Through Football is funded with a £212,034 grant from the Football Foundation, the UK’s largest sports charity, and managed by the London Playing Fields Foundation. It will be formally launched at the Football Foundation’s Mental Health Summit at Arsenal Football Club’s Emirates Stadium at 10am, 5 December.

Key facts about mental health:
• Suicide caused by depression is the biggest killer of young men aged between 18-to-25
• It is estimated that mental health affects up to one in four Britons at some point in their life
• Estimates also show depression costs the UK economy about £8bn a year in medication, benefits and lost working days
• There is currently a reliance on drugs to treat mental illness
• Coping Through Football is a new sport-based mental health initiative that is being launched
• It has potential to save NHS money through reduced hospital bed/clinician and medication bills.

Coping Through Football seeks to reduce the isolation and discrimination faced by one of the most marginalised groups – the mentally ill. It uses football as a tool to engage 18-35 year old men who are within the mental health care system but prefer not to attend the typical therapy sessions on offer. It is delivered in conjunction with the North East London Mental Health Trust, Waltham Forest Primary Care Trust and Leyton Orient’s Community Coaches.

It provides clients with football coaching sessions and other football-related activities. Healthcare specialists will work alongside the football coaches enabling aspects of the clients existing programme of care to be delivered simultaneously. This will increase the accessibility of their current care programme and heighten the ability of the healthcare providers to deliver their health services.

Coping Through Football harnesses sports’ best attributes to help build the self esteem of mental health service users. The football sessions are designed to improve the physical fitness of participants, who often have high rates of heart disease, strokes, cancer and diabetes. It introduces a routine into daily life and provides them with an environment they can be comfortable socialising in, preventing isolation and exclusion.

The scheme provides an alternative to the traditional reliance on medication as a treatment for depression. The endorphins produced whilst playing football also provide a natural sense of wellbeing to the group, who previously may have had drug or alcohol issues.

Coping Through Football is also a recovery model which aims to take the end user on a journey from secondary care to the relative normality of primary care. This project will not only exploit football’s capacity for bringing people together, but will also be used as a part of their therapy. This will include training, playing matches, discussions on football related topics, attending FA coaching and refereeing courses, volunteering and watching professional fixtures.

Coping Through Football’s sophisticated bespoke monitoring and evaluation software has been endorsed by the Institute of Psychiatry. It will capture data not just on the improvements in participants’ health and wellbeing but also on the savings to the NHS created through fewer admissions to hospital for mental health treatment.

Minister for Sport Gerry Sutcliffe said: “In Coping Through Football, the Football Foundation and London Playing Fields Foundation are using the national game’s best attributes to address a serious health problem that can be very debilitating to sufferers.

“This is an exciting pilot initiative which draws on football’s qualities such as team-bonding and exercise, which can build self-esteem and help a person get back on track and achieve their full potential.”

Jason Kelvin, 36, a service user on Coping Through Football described the dramatic impact that taster sessions have had: “My anxiety is like being imprisoned.  Yet I am both the inmate and jailor.  Instead of being in a 6×4 cell, my walls are all encompassing, like an invisible force field continuously pulling me down emotionally, and it is my thoughts that keep me here.

“It is a debilitating condition and not a happy place to be. My natural inclination is to avoid places, people and situations that can arouse my fear. My answer for years has been to hide away, to stay indoors creating a comfort zone that I could live with. This only exasperates the problem as the isolation fuels my anxiety, creating panic, paranoia and inevitably depression.

“Thanks to Coping Through Football I have been able to pierce some of this destructive emotion. I’ve always enjoyed sport and not only has this helped me regain some of my fitness but I’ve made new friends from different walks of life; yet with similar situations to mine.  Making these contacts helps you realise you’re not alone. I’ve built up a lot of my lost confidence, and broken many of the shackles that were holding me in my self-imposed prison.

“I might still be an inmate, but during my Coping Through Football time, I feel like I’m on day release!”

Paul Thorogood, Chief Executive of the Football Foundation, added: “The Coping Through Football initiative is an innovative way of helping people who suffer from mental health issues. It is the latest example of how the Football Foundation is harnessing our national game as an important vehicle that can help support individuals and deliver benefits to society in a wide range of areas.”

Alex Welsh, The Operations Director for the London Playing Fields: “Through the Coping Through Football project the London Playing Fields Foundation has demonstrated that protecting playing fields can have a dramatic impact on the quality of life of those who use them.”

For more information ring Rory Carroll (Football Foundation) on 0845 345 4555 ext. 4280 / 07710 274 285 or

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