Five-a-side football and walking football sessions have been found to help people form and sustain relationships and friendships and improve their fitness and health.
Since December 2015, Emma Lamont, and Professor Geoff Dickens from Abertay University have been working on a collaborative project with NHS Tayside and NHS Fife which offers regular five-a-side football and walking football sessions to people who have mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.
“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’,” said Emma Lamont from the Division of Mental Health Nursing & Counselling.
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.”
The study looked at four different groups, some of which have been playing together for as long as 15 years. Ages range from 18 to 60 and there is a mixture of men and women.
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, including physiotherapist Gillian McDonald of NHS Tayside.
These specific mental health football teams compete in mental health leagues in Scotland and the researchers revealed that going to these tournaments was a big motivator for them and boosted their self-esteem.
Ms Lamont added: “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. Many of them would go for a drink or a curry together, forming a lasting relationship.”
The football sessions are funded through the NHS with local authority support. Emma Lamont is due to present the research to the Finnish Association for Mental Health when they visit Scotland in April.