State of Mind Sport brings together ex-professional sportsmen and local employees to discuss mental health

Charity State of Mind Sport has completed a two-year contract to take its Mental Fitness Sessions out into businesses across West Yorkshire, specifically targeting workplaces with a high proportion of men.

Commissioned by West Yorkshire Health and Care Partnership’s (WY-HCP) Suicide Prevention Programme, the scheme has seen Ex-professional sportsmen help hundreds of employees across the region talk about mental health and suicide through awareness-raising sessions

The sessions were delivered by ex-sportsmen including Ian Smith, an ex-Super League Rugby League referee, and Jimmy Gittins, a former Wakefield Trinity and Dewsbury Rams player, who in 2002 suffered a horrific injury which broke his neck in two places and put an end to his playing career.

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Mr Gittins, who has been involved with State of Mind Sport since 2011, said: “I went through a devastating injury which changed my life. For a long time I thought: ‘What do I have to offer somebody?’ But it’s allowed me the opportunity to get out there and talk about my own personal story.

Jimmy Gittins, a former Wakefield Trinity and Dewsbury Rams player.Jimmy Gittins, a former Wakefield Trinity and Dewsbury Rams player.
Jimmy Gittins, a former Wakefield Trinity and Dewsbury Rams player.

“When you get feedback to say: ‘You’ve made my life better; you’ve given me a different outlook’, it’s incredibly humbling and makes what you do so worthwhile.

The WY-HCP funded project, launched in the aftermath of the pandemic, aimed to proactively target workforces across the county, to encourage vital conversations around mental health and suicide.

The project saw a total of 50 sessions delivered across Wakefield, Leeds, Calderdale, Bradford and Kirklees, reaching 1,348 people – two-thirds of which were men – exceeding the project’s initial target of 1,250 people.

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Data from the ONS shows that West Yorkshire has higher suicide rates than the England average, with significantly more men taking their own lives than women.

Philip Cooper, co-founder of State of Mind Sport, said: “This contract has been great, to take our training across as many places as possible.

“The people delivering the sessions all have lived experience of mental health.

“Through their lived experience and their link to sport, it provided lots of opportunity to talk about anxiety and low mood.

“They can talk about loss and defeat and dealing with anxiety before they go out onto the pitch; there are lots of ways to introduce a whole host of mental health issues using sport analogies.”