Physios are using football to enhance the lives of mental health service users, writes Rael Martell
A Bristol-based physiotherapist is the driving force behind a footballing project to improve the health of people with serious mental illnesses. Margot Hodgson, a physiotherapist at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership trust, has put together a successful bid for a grant worth almost GBP 80,000 over three years from the Football Foundation, a major UK charity. Other partners in the scheme include the Bristol City football club, Bristol City council and Bristol University. Ms Hodgson said she had worked closely with physiotherapy technician Martin Pickford and physio Liz Timms to establish football groups for patients. The money will fund a number of initiatives, including employing specialist sports coaches and giving mental health service users the chance to sign up for football coaching courses. Ms Hodgson hopes service users with a range of illnesses, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, may become football coaches themselves. 'Ultimately, we hope the project may provide employment opportunities,' she told Frontline. The grant will also allow the expansion of existing sports programmes for people in the city who have severe chronic mental illness. The funding will go towards hiring facilities, establishing a league and tournaments, and training and education, a Football Foundation spokesperson told Frontline. Ms Hodgson said participants' engagement in the project would vary depending on the severity of their illness. For some, playing competitively may be possible, she explained. For others, less strenuous participation is more realistic. Football coaches will join forces with mental health teams across Bristol and the surrounding area to implement the project. Ms Hodgson added: 'This grant gives a very marginalised group in society a brilliant opportunity to enjoy football and other community sporting activities that most of us take for granted. 'Exercise and sporting activities such as football can play an important role in the recovery of our service users, and the grant will be directly helping them back to a healthy and active life.' People with mental health problems are at higher risk of poor physical health and are almost twice as likely to die of coronary heart disease than the general public, according to the trust. In addition, they are four times more likely to die of respiratory diseases. About half of these premature deaths are attributable to physical health problems and a lack of exercise and sporting opportunities.
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