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Children's Mental Health Week comes at crucial time for physical activity and sport sector in London

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Children's Mental Health Week comes at crucial time for physical activity and sport sector in London

At the start of Children's Mental Health Week, Specialist Advisor for Children and Young People, Gary Palmer, looks at some concerning figures around young people's mental wellbeing and looks at how physical activity can be a force for good in this area. 

It is Children’s Mental Health Week and the big focus for this year’s event is ‘Growing Together’ - how children and young people have grown, developed and how they can help others.

Arguably, this week has never been more important following two years where covid-19 has had a huge impact on the physical and mental wellbeing of our young people as well as their activity levels. 

Sport England insight has already shown significant drops in the confidence and competence of many young people when it comes to completing physical activity.

This is particularly concerning as there is an established relationship between feeling positive about taking part in sport and physical activity and doing so. It is hardly surprising then that we are seeing falling levels of physical activity.

Recent data from Sport England’s Active Lives Survey for Children and Young People also highlights the challenges around growth and improvements in mental health for these young people in our capital.

In London, we are seeing:

  • An increase in Year 7-11s pupils finding they often or sometimes feel lonely
  • This is an increase of 6% from the 2019-20 academic year with a worrying gender split of boys 26.2% and girls 41.3%.
  • Further gender inequalities such as boys scoring higher for happiness and life satisfaction and lower for loneliness than girls.
  • The same pattern emerges when you compare KS3 (year 7-8) and KS4 (year 9-11).
  • More boys (46%) than girls (43%) meeting the recommended 60 active minutes every day.

I had the privilege of working with Hayley Jarvis and James Durcan from Mind UK at our Active London conference, where we explored the role that sport and physical activity can play in helping young people maintain good mental health.

This was particularly pertinent at stressful times in their lives, such as during examinations or when transitioning between schools. They also identified that there was an increased risk of mental health problems in young people with lower activity levels.

London Sport has always encouraged and supported organisations to increase all young people’s physical activity levels, but we are not looking at a uniform picture across our city - even within a single borough we can see stark inequalities. 

We must, therefore, focus our resources on those young people that really need us most, and the young people who are experiencing poor mental health in London are very much at the forefront of our minds.

There is a lot of good work that is already going on in this space, with a number of young people benefiting from programmes like the Youth Sport Trust’s Active in Mind, London Youth’s Good for Girls and Evolve’s Project Hero but we need to do so much more.

We need to increase the awareness of what products/services are available and we also need to work with young people to adapt or co-design new interventions so that recipients are getting the support that they really need.

We are really excited to begin work specifically in this area, designing work with young people that will enable us to use physical activity programmes to have a sustained and positive impact on children's mental health.

This is no longer just a discussion about physical health and meeting recommended levels of activity. This is about happiness, life satisfaction and reducing feelings of loneliness too.

If you would like to collaborate with London Sport on work in this area, contact me today.

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London Sport aims to ensure Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity

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London Sport aims to ensure more Londoners live happier, healthier lives through sport and physical activity. Supported by the Mayor of London and Sport England, our target is to get Londoners more physically active.

For more information on London Sport, visit www.londonsport.org

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