A mental health charity in the Dearne Valley is using sport and activity as one of its primary ways to support the mental wellbeing of people in the community.
Mind Over Matter has been established for just over two years. Founded by Billy Whitehouse, it was created following a charity football match that was inspired by Billy’s cousin, who suffers with serious mental health problems.
It led to Billy, alongside Ryan Matthews and Bev Jones, to setup the charity which aims to be inclusive for all people in the local community.
There are weekly yoga sessions, Zumba classes, and walking groups, with regular physical activity a cornerstone of what the charity offers, alongside fundraising events.
Its newest sporting offering has seen the creation of a Sunday league football team which has been supported by the Active Dearne project, with funding to get the team started with essentials such as goalposts, kit, pitch maintenance and coaching qualifications.
“We want to raise awareness to the point where events and activities are happening daily,” explained Billy, who has ambitions for the charity to be on the same scale as Mind.
“We want to put it into peoples’ routine so it’s a different sort of therapy for their mental health. We’re trying to get people out of the house and being part of something.
“The football team has been massive for that. Watching from the sidelines and seeing friendships being built has been great.
“We had immediate interest from ten or eleven players. Some are people we know but we’ve got people coming from different places to be part of what we’re doing. The people we’ve got are absolutely brilliant. They’re a massive part of who we are, and not just playing football on a Sunday.
“It’s becoming infectious for people not involved in the team to want to come down. Some of the players have spoken to me about their personal struggles with anxiety, but they’re almost addicted to coming now. It’s not just playing on a Sunday – they want to help out and volunteer.”
“It has become more than a football team, it’s a family”
Mind Charity reports that exercising three times a week as opposed to not at all, can reduce a person’s risk of depression by up to a third. Billy and the team prides itself on being a place where men can talk openly knowing that they will be supported by each other.
Captain of the team, Levi Oldfield, says it has already become far more than just a group of men playing football.
“That 90 minutes of football you play, you just forget all your problems,” said Levi, who raised £600 for Mind Over Matter by organising a golf day.
“It has become more than a football team, it’s a family. The boys know when you’re not in a good frame of mind, and can help pick you up.
“It comes down to the trust we’ve got with each other. If someone wants to talk to another player on the team, then nobody else needs to know or intervene. There’s no gossiping. If it’s working for them, great. We’re all there to listen to each other.
“I just don’t like to see people struggle. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone down in the dumps when there are people who can help them, and I think that’s what we can try and do and what football can do for you.”
There’s a common purpose running through the team, but each player has their own personal motivations for being part of the club. One member of the club joined to lose weight and to start playing football again, with qualified personal trainers in the team providing free fitness sessions to support him.
For Joe Farmer, a student at Sheffield Hallam University, recent family experiences with depression and anxiety, as well as a girlfriend who is a qualified mental health nurse, has given added meaning to doing something he has spent most of his life doing.
“I come from quite a sporting family and it’s something I’ve always done and enjoyed,” he explained.
“With sport, it’s something to focus on. It takes your mind off what might be going on in your life and you can put it in a box while you have a game of cricket or football. It’s something to focus your energy on rather than focussing on negative things, which you might do otherwise.
“Having that first session back after lockdown felt like a huge weight lifted off me. With sport, it brings me a lot of confidence. It’s something I can do and if I do well, I can excel at it.
“From the clubs I’ve played for previously, you’d play football, go to the pub and go home. You’re not getting that social interaction, and you don’t feel part of something. With Mind Over Matter, you know 15 or 16 people who are there for you, and you know they’ve got you back.
“It’s like a family now to be fair.”
“It’s part of a movement where it’s more than just kicking a ball, and they know that.”
The club do things differently to your average Sunday league side, including post-match yoga sessions on the pitch, which has raised eyebrows with the opposition, but also started to bring compliments too.
It’s that breaking down of traditional stereotypes and barriers that all plays its role in creating an environment where people are comfortable in asking for help when they need it. In the UK, men are only around half as likely as women to access psychological therapies, and it’s also believed they are less likely to speak to family or friends about mental health issues.
While Mind Over Matter is not exclusively for males, it is that sort of statistic that Billy hopes the football team can help to change.
“In the past, you look at men and you were weak if you speak about your feelings. I remember from the first time we sat the lads down as a team and spoke about how we wanted to be as a team, and they all bought into it.
“It’s part of a movement where it’s more than just kicking a ball and they know that. They know if they want to speak to anyone, then we’re all approachable. It’s got to the point where the lads are suggesting fundraisers because they’re so invested in what we do.
“If you look at a normal Sunday league team, you might play and go home. Everything we do is about supporting people develop mentally.
“If you look at the area we live in, it is a working class town. It’s still a little bit frowned upon to talk about your feelings, and that’s where people like us come in. Everyone is different and we want to do as much as we can for all of them.”
To find our more about Mind Over Mind charity, click here.
For those working in the sport and activity sector, download the Mind Sport and Activity toolkit.