National mental and physical health initiative launched in schools

A new national initiative led by youth sport charity the Youth Sport Trust to improve the physical, social and mental wellbeing of secondary school children will be piloted in 25 schools across the country.

The Active in Mind project launches this month to improve children’s mental health and will be evaluated, and its successes shared, by academics at Leeds Beckett University.

Chris Wright, head of wellbeing at the Youth Sport Trust, said: 

The decline in physical and emotional wellbeing of young people has never been so prevalent as it is in today’s society. Evidence demonstrates the link between physical activity and good mental health, as well as higher levels of academic achievement and higher levels of wellbeing overall. As a result we are excited to be working with 25 schools to pilot this new national programme. 

We know through the evaluation of similar programmes we have developed and delivered like Change4Life, Girls Active and YA Peer Leaders that peer mentoring and approaches have a positive benefit to raising physical activity levels. We are looking forward to working with Leeds Beckett University to evaluate our pioneering national initiative and ensure it acts as a vehicle for change through sport.

The project will see 250 young people, aged 15 to 18, act as mentors to a total of 750 young people experiencing mental wellbeing issues, supporting them in becoming physically active. The Active in Mind mentors will in turn be supported by a lead adult Wellbeing Champion.

The mentors will receive prior training in developing strategies to improve mental wellbeing and reduce stress and anxiety in their peers. Each setting will work with the additional support services that are available to the school for mental health awareness and training and will be part of the schools’ holistic approach to mental health. 

The aim of the project is to create a ‘nurture group’ environment in each school for those young people most in need of support, using sport and physical activity as the vehicle for change. The project will provide an alternative approach to simply addressing the mental health of the participant, by also tackling their physical health and social wellbeing. 

Professor Jonathan Glazzard, Principal Investigator of the Active in Mind project at Leeds Beckett, said: 

We are delighted to have been selected by the Youth Sport Trust to support the evaluation of this project. We will rigorously evaluate the impact of the project on the mental and physical health of both the mentors and young people. We will also produce an online toolkit to support schools in developing their approaches to peer mentoring in sport. 

We are excited to have been selected as the evaluators for this project and we look forward to reporting the outcomes in 2018.

The project will be the first major piece of research undertaken by the new Carnegie Centre of Excellence for Mental Health in Schools at Leeds Beckett University. The national centre is a partnership between the Carnegie School of Education and Minds Ahead to support children, young people and teachers around issues of mental health and is the first of its kind in the UK.  

Leeds Beckett University will also host a Peer Mentoring in Sport conference in June 2018 which will be open to all schools, mentors and young people involved in the Active in Mind project as well as anyone interested in learning more.

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