Trying something new


Improving boys’ and young men’s mental health through sports and creative activities

Kadra Abdinasir, Louis Allwood and Juliet Snell
2 June 2021

Boys and young men can face multiple barriers to accessing mental health support, including gender stereotypes which generate stigma around seeking help, concerns around showing vulnerability, and less positive attitudes towards mental health services. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on boys’ and young men’s stress and anxiety levels, and this has been particularly marked for young men experiencing racial injustice.

‘Thriving Not Just Surviving’ was a three-year programme funded by Comic Relief to deliver community-based mental health support tailored to the needs of boys and young men. Trying something new is based on Centre for Mental Health’s evaluation of this programme and provides insights into what works when supporting boys and young men.

The report finds that embedding mental health support in sporting and creative activities can engage boys and young men who might find traditional services less welcoming or relevant. It also finds that partnership working can usefully bring complementary skill sets together, for example with skilled youth workers acting alongside counsellors or psychologists to deliver both engagement and support.

To improve mental health support for boys and young men, the NHS should develop services based on the ‘Thriving Not Just Surviving’ approach. It is also necessary for the mental health workforce to be more representative of the communities it serves and for Government to fund local authorities to rebuild youth services after years of austerity.

Let’s get better mental health support for all

The coronavirus pandemic is a physical health emergency on a global scale, such as we have never seen in our lifetimes. But it is also a mental health emergency.

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