30/10/19 – Launch of the mental health through movement report

Speakers: Dr Martin Yelling, Stormbreak; Andy Anstey, England Athletics; Helen Clark, Lead Author

30 October  2019

All-Party Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood

The Launch of the 14th Working Group Report: Positive Mental Health Through Movement

Chair: Steve McCabe MP

Speakers: Dr Martin Yelling, Stormbreak; Andy Anstey, England Athletics; Helen Clark, Lead Author

Chair’s Opening Remarks:

This report is the third in our unique APPG trilogy of reports on Child Mental Health. The report stands independently as do the others, but I would urge you to read all three to get a complete picture of the APPG’s developed policy on child mental health. We are indebted as always to our sponsors for all three; in this case the Universities of Bournemouth and Winchester.

This report differs considerably from the other two in the sequence; deliberately so. It is intended first and foremost to be a practical document – giving many instances of successful movement interventions with children and recording their beneficial effect on children’s mental health. Teachers, parents and all who work with them in whatever personal or professional capacity may like to study these with care and maybe adapt for their own local and individual purposes. The APPG is always keen to increase its stock of ‘what works’   – so if any of you can add to these examples, do not hesitate to contact our lead author, Helen Clark who is with us today.

If I have any plea to Government, it is that parents need help and guidance. They cannot be expected to dream up examples of what works for themselves and neither can teachers. This is where Government steps in with a role in piloting, recommending and showcasing good practice. There is a difference between nanny statist and damaging laissez faire practice. Good government is an efficacious balance in all things and for children to maintain good and stable mental health, the Government must also adopt this measured approach to advice and help.

Martin Yelling, Stormbreak

I’d like to begin by thanking the All Parliamentary Group on a Fit and Healthy Childhood for commissioning this report, the report co-sponsors, Bournemouth University and the University of Winchester, Helen Clark, the report lead author, and all of the contributors for their work in this report but also for the significant work they do every day in their respective fields striving to make some of the recommendations to support children’s mental health contained within this report a reality. It’s great to see so many people here this evening, like me, you’re here because you believe you can make a difference. We all want the same thing, we all see the same issues, we have a shared responsibility to try, in our own ways, to make a meaningful difference to the health and happiness of children today and in the future.

For children and young people, mental health is a foundation of healthy development and problems arising from it can emerge at different times, in complex ways and be present throughout a lifetime. Despite feeling a touch of imposter syndrome right now, I’m going to share more about why this report is topical, timely and hugely important. I’m 47. I’ve 3 children, twin boys aged 6 and a 10 year old daughter. I’m doing my best at adulting with all of the real life complexities that involves for me in my context, given my background and experiences. I’m sure that’s the same for many of you here today. It doesn’t always go totally to plan, sometimes I make mistakes, sometimes I manage better than others. Mostly I’m doing ok, frequently I feel like I’m failing, occasionally I feel like I’m winning at life. As a nearly grown up, what I do know now (and that’s really important), is that through appropriate, purposeful, regular movement for me, I can mostly navigate my way through life with reasonable success (whatever that may mean!). As a child I didn’t know this. I may have felt it, but I didn’t know it, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have a framework around me.

I went to a comprehensive school in Somerset and came from a struggling single parent family. My Mum worked hard, long hours in multiple jobs. I was the boy who was ‘sent outside to run around to let off steam’. I was the boy who was never going to make it because he ‘had a lot going on’. I was the boy being talked at a lot in boring ways, in rooms with no windows, by too many people on small plastic chairs. I guess ‘running around outside to let off steam’ did help in my life an international athlete, and being told I’d never make it did help me in my PhD at post doc at Loughborough and my future career.

But it was through discovery, stubbornness, trial and failure, success and the influence of trusted adults that, that over a lifetime, I started to understand, and am still learning about the ways in which movement supports mental health. I would suggest that for many of you here this evening, for those of you for whom movement is an important part of your life too, it’s not so much now for the physical benefits that you do it, although, they are important, but for your day to day, the ways in which movement supports your mental health, that’s your priority:

  • to help you manage stress,
  • to calm down and to keep calm
  • to understand and to talk about your emotions
  • to feel better about yourself
  • to feel connected to other people and to the world around you
  • to belong
  • to help you maintain, build or repair relationships
  • to support you with pain, grief and loss.

These are not small things to be added on to the bottom of a policy framework, nor glossy rhetoric to be forgotten in practise. They stick with you and are very real. They should be at the forefront of decision making, policy, strategy and provision. The benefits of movement to mental health and wellbeing in adults is becoming more established, in children the benefits and strategies for these are less clear. This report highlights the importance of movement for wellbeing and mental health and the connections between sport, exercise, physical activity, physical education and mental health. BUT it also draws our attention to the notion that policy and government strategy has yet to realise the ambition of successfully integrating movement as a means to shaping and supporting a young person’s mental health.

The report also recognises that different forms of movement, delivered differently, with different people can shape and support children’s mental health in multiple ways. We should also recognise the movement itself isn’t magic. It’s not a super fix all solution. Sometimes it helps children a little, sometimes a lot, and for some not at all. There is not a one size fits all answer to mental health through movement. Just as there is no one size fits all answer that physical activity is the “cure” for obesity.

Throughout the report there are many examples of excellent ways in which organisations such as the Play Therapy UK, the Youth Sport Trust, OPAL, Mind, Clear Sky, Place to Be, Wave Project, Stormbreak and Sport England, are working to improve the lives of children and young and people. At Stormbreak our vision for a whole school mentally healthy movement climate is underpinned by a set of principles represented by a commitment to our rules of engagement. One of those rules of engagement is to reduce stigma about mental health through mainstreaming conversations during, in and around movement. Specifically, children are encouraged to talk openly about their own and others’ emotions and feelings and explore ways that movement can shape and support their mental health now and in the future.

I hope I’ve done a little to reduce that stigma this evening. But more importantly, collectively we hope that this APPG report helps raise awareness of the critical need to support the growing crisis in mental health needs of children, the ways in which movement can serve this aspiration and specifically draws attention to the chapter recommendations; notably for Government to place movement interventions at the heart of its strategy to support the mental health of children and young people. Thank you.

Andy Anstey, England Athletics

Notes from this speaker are not available at the moment.

Helen Clark, Lead Author

Notes from this speaker are not available at the moment.

After some further discussion, questions and comments, the meeting closed at 7.10 pm.

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