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30 Oct 2019

Rugby's Offload mental health programme to be extended after university research
BY Tom Walker

Offload aims to address low-level mental health problems by inviting men to engage with current and former professional players

Offload aims to address low-level mental health problems by inviting men to engage with current and former professional players
photo: Edge Hill University

A university study has helped a sporting charity secure funding to extend a successful mental health programme for men.

Edge Hill University's sport and mental health research team was commissioned by charity Rugby League Cares to explore the impact of its Offload programme.

Funded by the Big Lottery and delivered in partnership with State of Mind Sport, Offload aims to address low-level mental health problems by inviting men to engage with current and former players at Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.

Between 1 April 2017 and 30 September 2018, nearly 1,000 men from some of England’s most deprived communities – and areas with a high prevalence of suicide – engaged in the Offload programme.

After taking part, 78 per cent of men reported feeling more aware of how to look after their health and wellbeing, and 74 per cent felt better able to cope with everyday life.

The Edge Hill report helped Rugby League Cares secure a further grant from the National Lottery Community Fund, which will enable Offload to continue for at least another two years in the three existing areas it operates (Salford, Warrington and Widnes) with the ambition to expand into more rugby league communities.

Led by Professor Andy Smith and involving research assistant Rachel Wilcock, Dr David Haycock and Jon Jones, the Edge Hill team worked closely with Offload participants, Rugby League Cares and clinical mental health experts to assess the scheme's impact.

"We worked with the clubs and delivery staff from State of Mind Sport to design ways of effectively engaging men taking part in Offload, and to allow them to develop positive ways of coping with the mental health challenges they experience," said professor Andy Smith.

Rachel Wilcock, a research assistant on the project, added: “Our research indicated that the brand of rugby league, and the clubs specifically, was initially effective in recruiting men to Offload and holding the fixtures in non-clinical environments, using rugby league-style language, was especially important for men.

“It encouraged them to seek support for their mental health, helped destigmatize mental illness and enabled men to take greater control over their lives.”



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