This Saturday, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. The day was first celebrated in 1992 as part of an initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health – a non-governmental organization that was founded in 1948. Each year since the first World Mental Health Day, people from all walks of life come together to share and raise awareness of mental illnesses that affect millions of lives worldwide.
Each year has brought to attention a different theme, and this year will be no different. The 2020 theme is “Mental Health for All-Greater Investment – Greater Access. Everyone, everywhere.” This theme is a call to action. Mental health is one of the most neglected areas of health concern, while close to a billion people live with a mental disorder, and 3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol. And now with the impact of a global pandemic – COVID-19 – mental health is a rising concern across the globe, across all ages, sex, socioeconomic status and ethnic demographics.
Despite the relatively large numbers and growing concern in recent decades, very few have access to quality mental health services. Many factors come into play – lack of governmental investment, not enough structure, ‘it’ being a relatively taboo topic across many areas of life and a general lack of action.
However, now, maybe more than ever, mental health is being pushed to the forefront of the conversation. Over the past nine months, we have all been faced with numerous challenges. From the frontline worker to the student-athlete. From fears of bringing the virus home to loved ones to the anxiety of our futures. We have all experienced the impact isolation can have on us, and for most of us, we continue to live with the ramifications COVID-19 has had on our work, school, sport, family and social life. So, now – more than ever before – it is time to invest in mental health programmes and initiatives on a global scale to respond to the demand now and in the years to come. And that is why this year’s World Health Day holds a particular urgency.
It particularly holds an urgency for youth, teens and young adults that have had so much their future thrown into turmoil. In particular, those that have been so invested in sports. Without the usual schedule of games, practices, or team training sessions, an individual can feel a loss of identity and purpose. Leading to the development of depressive symptoms.
And while we cannot hope in our circumstances immediately improving, there are things that we as individuals, coaches, parents and sports organizations can do to improve our mental health.
Encouraging physical activity
In recent years, corresponding with the rise in mental health awareness, there have been many articles published on the positive impact physical activity has on mental health. One such study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that by being physically active, depressive symptoms significantly decreased. Known as the exercise effect, mood enhancement occurs typically within five minutes of moderate exercise.
Setting a routine for the day
Encouraging youth, teens and young adults, particularly those in school to adopt a routine is highly effective as it gives purpose. First by encouraging and creating a space for getting seven to nine hours of sleep is critical to physical and mental health. Then, setting a schedule of the day’s events and tasks to complete gives structure. Lastly, setting or encouraging goals for school or sports (albeit alone in some cases) gives purpose and intentionality to one’s time.
Adopting a healthy diet
There is debate as to whether diet can influence the development of depressive symptoms or vice versa, but regardless, diet is crucial to anyone’s mental well being – young or old. Try to stay away from highly processed foods (such as fast food), and look to increase the consumption of vegetables and fruits.
Set up mini-group training sessions (when possible and with proper guidelines)
We are social beings, this cannot be more true for young people. It is important for development, but also for our mental health. Due to the pandemic, setting up gatherings, or training sessions require a lot of wisdom and knowledge of the guidelines in place to protect others. So when appropriate, set up group meetings – even it is just to socialize and not train.