Youth programme battles mental illness through sports

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“Mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. There are multiple associations between poor mental health and chronic physical conditions … so we are hoping that S.I.M. would be able to offer a refuge, which is a safe space to rebuild oneself, for those in schools and others. “

The following Letter to the Editor about a newly launched youth programme was sent to Wired868 by the Can Bou Play Foundation:

Photo: Guests at the Sport In Mind launch complete puzzle

A new youth programme, called Sport In Mind – Mental Health Programme (SIM) is seeking to usher in a new era of how mental health is approached in Trinidad and Tobago and demonstrate how sport can operate as an effective tool to tackle various mental challenges. The founders, Can Bou Play Foundation, which offers mentoring and education with sports at the core, and Mindology Trinidad, a sport psychology practice, hope SIM will help reduce the stigma attached to mental health.

The free programme that targets adolescents 15 years and older will initially run from September 2019 to January 2020. Current participants are mainly from the San Juan/Barataria/Aranguez area as well as a contingent from the Tableland Sports Club, though more participants are welcomed.

SIM will run every Wednesday from 4 to 6pm at the Ultimate Indoor Facility in Aranguez. Organisers say it will provide a safe and welcoming space for young people to participate in sports (primarily football) with highly qualified Can Bou Play Foundation technical coaches. Participants will also engage in one-on-one and group discussions, workshops and idea-sharing with sports psychologist Alexandria Olton.

Olton said she needed little convincing to partner with Can Bou Play for this initiative and believes that in the face of mounting societal pressures, youth can find a healthy tonic from sport, especially when it is guided.

Olton said: “The impact sport and exercise can have on one’s mental wellbeing is so beneficial that the Royal College of Psychiatrists recognises exercise prescription as a form of treatment for a wide range of mental health conditions.”

Photo: SIM organisers at launch (Courtesy Can Bou Play Foundation)

In 2012, the then Minister of Health revealed that one in four people in our society suffers from mental illness. Furthermore, 21.5% of students admitted to feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day that they stopped participating in their usual activities. Trinidad and Tobago also has the third-highest suicide rate in the region and more suicides per 100,000 people than even the United States.

Feature speaker at the programme launch, president of the T&T Association of Psychologists, Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, echoed Olton’s sentiments about sports usefulness in fighting mental illness.

She said: “If you don’t know it, mental illness in the young people in Trinidad and Tobago, the rates between the ages of 14 to 29 are increasing. Earlier this year, so far in the schools, we have on record, more than 24 students that have died by suicide not only in secondary schools but in the primary schools.

“Mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. There are multiple associations between poor mental health and chronic physical conditions … so we are hoping that S.I.M. would be able to offer a refuge, which is a safe space to rebuild oneself, for those in schools and others. “

Can Bou Play CEO, Amiel Mohammed, urged more collaboration between sporting, governmental and corporate agencies.

Photo: President of TT Association of Psychologists, Dr Margaret Nakhid-Chatoor, speaks at SIM launch (Courtesy Can Bou Play Foundation)

“We can’t keep operating in silos,” he said. “Through true and honest collaboration we could really make a difference. The puzzle that I invited everyone to assemble here today represents just that. Everyone has their own unique piece to add to the larger puzzle to make it great.”

He also said he expected founders and coaches to learn from Olton and take the lessons from SIM into their communities, schools and institutions.

Partners and sponsors of the programme include Creamery Novelties (Hadco), Dairy Distributors Limited, Republic Bank, Agility Sports, HD Media and the Ultimate Indoor Facility for Sport In Mind.

Olton underscored the importance of the collaboration: “If we as Mindology Trinidad and the Can Bou Play Foundation, together with local businesses, are able to provide a programme that can act as a method of prevention, or as a support mechanism for our youth who are suffering, prone to experiencing mental ill-health or simply looking for an escape, then why shouldn’t we?”

Anyone interested in joining the Sport In Mind sessions or partnering with what Olton described as the ‘only program of its kind at the developmental level of youth sport in Trinidad’ can contact Can Bou Play Foundation or Mindology through their respective social media pages or visit the Ultimate Indoor Facility.

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