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The Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) has launched a new initiative using the power of sport to help people manage their mental health and wellbeing.

The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport Maree Todd attended the launch at the Oriam, Scotland’s sports performance centre in Edinburgh. The initiative urges community sports clubs and organisations to help break down barriers by encouraging people to connect with others in their local area through sport and physical activity. It is part of Scotland’s Mental Health Charter for Physical Activity and Sport, which has made great progress in supporting people to increase their confidence and self-esteem, and to reduce isolation.

Abby Cook, 19 from Grangemouth, believes sport saved her life and is now encouraging others who experience poor mental health to discover sport as she says it not only builds physical strength but helps your mental health to grow stronger. She struggled with anxiety and an eating disorder in her early teens after a condition she had since birth, Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), which causes your joints to easily dislocate causing a lot of pain, worsened and left her needing to use a wheelchair.

She said: “I was a competitive swimmer up until the age of 13 and loved cross country running. Physical exercise was my life but it was taken away from me overnight when my condition became so bad that I ended up being housebound for six months and unable to attend school. I became very anxious, depressed and ashamed of my disability.

“I came across Forth Valley Disability Sport when I was at breaking point and looking for a way to meet like-minded people in my local area.  Sport wasn’t the main motivator for joining, I found the social aspect helped save my life. It’s the chats with someone before and after you take part in a sport that really helped me, I found myself meeting new people and really looking forward to going back each week.”

Research carried out by SAMH and sportscotland found that 60 per cent of Scots active throughout the pandemic said it has had a positive impact on their wellbeing, more than half said it helped to relax or switch off, and over a third found that it made them feel less anxious.

Billy Watson, chief executive of mental health health charity SAMH said: “Hundreds of organisations have signed up to the Charter since we launched in 2018. We are now targeting local clubs and community organisations from the borders to our islands who can help people with mental health problems access sports and physical activity.

“There is a sport out there for everyone, whether it’s a local walking group or trying bowls to more accessible sports like Pickleball or Boccia. But it’s the mental benefits that we hear time and time again as making the real difference. Sports clubs can create a warm and welcoming environment for like-minded people and can help to widen social circles, which is a great driver for breaking down the barriers to physical activity and sport.”

Sports Minister Maree Todd said: “The Scottish Government is a strong supporter of Scotland’s Mental Health Charter for Physical Activity and Sport and believe in the link between physical, mental and social health.

“The new SAMH initiative aimed at clubs and community organisations will help remove barriers so that everyone in physical activity is supported to talk about mental health and wellbeing, and to know where to go to get help. We must make sure that having a mental health problem is never a barrier to engage, participate and achieve; whatever your goal.

“This is an important step in making sure this work continues to grow in the future and I look forward to many more organisations across Scotland signing up to the Charter.”

Stewart Harris, Chief Executive of sportscotland, said: “We know from our work in communities across the country that sport and physical activity has a very positive and sometimes life-changing effect on health and wellbeing. But it is also clear that we must do more to encourage people to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.

“By working in collaboration, the sporting system across Scotland can help break down barriers to participation, challenge stigma, and help make a very real difference to the lives of those people faced with mental health challenges. That is why we are delighted to support Scotland’s Mental Health Charter for Physical Activity and Sport.”

Sportscotland was both a steering group member and one of the first organisations to sign up to Scotland’s Mental Health Charter for Physical Activity and Sport, a project by SAMH to make sport more accessible to people with mental health problems.

SAMH has created new materials and resources designed for clubs and community organisations to support people living with mental health problems into exercise, as well as working towards the four Charter commitments – Promote, Collaborate, Include and Reflect.