#ESP2019 warm-up with Richard Bailey: „Healthy body - healthy mind?”

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

Mental health issues are prevalent across Europe, touching individuals of all backgrounds. Physical activity and sport have been observed to have several possible effects on mental health. Lately, the discussion about the link between mental health and sport has intensified, that is why we will have a session on it at the second European Sport Platform on 5 October. Dr Richard Bailey, Senior Researcher at the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education will give a keynote speech on the topic. As a warm-up to his session at the #ESP2019, we asked Richard a couple of questions in the topic.

Q: What is mental health?

Dr Richard Bailey, FRSA, Senior Researcher, International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education
Dr Richard Bailey, FRSA, Senior Researcher, International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education

A: Mental health can mean different things to different people, but generally speaking it refers to our ability to think and feel about how we need and want to live our lives. It also determines how we handle life’s stresses, relate to other people, and make choices about our lives. Since our mental health affects our moods, emotions and thoughts, it deserves serious attention; it directly affects the quality of our lives, our families and communities.

Q: What are the key facts around the mental health of Europeans today?

A: About a quarter of us are affected by mental health problems in any year, and while some of these problems can be quite mild and temporary, they can still make dealing with life’s challenges difficult or even painful. Some conditions range from common problems, such as depression, stress and anxiety, to rarer problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. One of the challenges facing doctors, therapists working with people with problems is that these problems can be caused by a very wide range of factors, from genetics and brain chemical to trauma, abuse and poor lifestyles. The good news is that we know more about mental health, its support and treatment than ever before, and help is available across Europe. The even better news is that many people with mental health problems do get better.

Q: How can participation in sport and physical activity have a positive effect on one's mental health?

A: Regular activity and sports participation are among the most valuable things we can all do to bolster our mental health. Research has found that people with stress, anxiety and mild to moderate depression can benefit enormously from regular physical activity. In fact, it seems that almost any form of physical activity is good for mental health – and, of course, physical health. But certain types of activities are more positively associated with mental health than others. Organised sport, and especially team sports, seem to be the most effective in reducing measures of mental health, which should be good news for many ENGSO members and partners. Other physical activities, such as cycling, aerobic exercise, yoga and tai chi have been found to give strong mental health benefits as well. Social support seems to be particularly valuable, which raises the important issue of the role of sports clubs.

Q: How can a sports club support its members when it comes to improving their mental health? What are the limits to a sports club's capacity in promoting mental health?

A: Sports clubs’ primary responsibility is to offer high quality sporting experiences for its members. Unless it has special expertise and training, it should not try to function as a medical facility. However, it is a uniquely important place in many people’s lives, where people often meet and socialise. It is also a setting where people tend to feel relaxed. So one job that sports clubs might consider is to disseminate information to its members about mental health.

The coaches could also learn about the Early Warning Signs of mental health problems. Perhaps the best sign of problems is a radical change to typical behaviour, such as

  • eating or sleeping too much or too little

  • having low or no energy

  • feeling disconnected from other people

  • feeling helpless or hopeless

  • smoking, drinking or using drugs more than usual

  • feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried or scared

  • yelling or fighting with family and friends

  • experiencing severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships

  • obsessively focusing on memories or experiences

  • hearing voices or believing things that are not true

  • inability to perform daily tasks.

If the coaches suspect that one of their members has a problem, they might carefully, respectfully and privately ask if everything is OK. If not, they could gently encourage a visit to a doctor.

To hear more about the links between mental health and physical activity, join us at the second European Sport Platform on 4-5 October in Rome.