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Advantage scheme supporting young people’s mental health

9 Feb 2021
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West Ham's David Martin underlines the importance of getting support in difficult times

The COVID-19 crisis has caused uncertainty and concerns for all age groups over the past year, including young people whose education or career plans have been affected.

With that in mind, the community arms of West Ham United, Arsenal and Leyton Orient have partnered with their local NHS Trusts on the Advantage programme, created to support young Londoners with mental health issues caused by the pandemic.

Advantage is a young person-led programme that works with participants to provide them with the tools and support to adjust better to the "new normal" of life in the pandemic.

Their mentors offer a range of interventions, such as goal-setting, CV writing and wellbeing checks to help them get back on track and fulfil their potential. 

West Ham goalkeeper David Martin believes the Advantage programme is important in both helping to reduce the stigma associated with mental health and easing the burden on the NHS at this critical time.

"Whatever stage in your life [you're at], you will have a stage probably where things don’t quite go how you expect them to, and you might not deal with them how you expect," he says. "But that’s no sign of weakness, that’s just a natural thing.

"I’ve had my downs, I’ve had my ups. But having those people around you that can help support you, whether it’d be your family or whether it’d be someone at West Ham that just needs to speak to you, it’s vital."

Mentoring sessions

West Ham are working alongside clinical psychologist Dr Hannah Prytherch, from the Newham Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, on the Advantage programme.

With the demand for mental-health provision increasing significantly during the pandemic, Dr Prytherch feels it is hugely valuable for young people to be able to talk about mental health at their local football club, saying it is "a neutral, non-stigmatising setting that is likely to appeal to young people in a way that Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services might not".

Through the scheme, participants will be offered weekly mentoring sessions with a mentor for up to a year, with that consistent contact helping to build trusting relationships.

"The mentors are supported by mental-health practitioners who offer regular supervision sessions," says Dr Prytherch.

"Once lockdown eases, young people will also have the opportunity to engage in the other activities offered by the football clubs. These include sport, of course, but also lots of other things like leadership, employability and creative programmes. 

"I hope [football clubs’ involvement] will help both young people and football clubs see that talking about mental health just means talking about how you feel.

"I hope that seeing that adults they respect are open to these conversations will reduce some of the stigma around talking about mental health."

Dr Prytherch’s mental-health tips

- Maintain meaningful connections and relationships with people who you feel you can share things with.
- Have space for yourself, maybe through switching off your phone or going for a walk outside. Some people like to meditate or do yoga.
- Keep healthy physically, maybe through exercise, trying to eat well and getting enough sleep.
- Try to find a good balance between working towards and achieving things that are important to you.
- Give yourself a break, and time to relax and have fun.

Fans can get more information on maintaining positive mental health from the Premier League's #StayWell hub, including tips and advice from experts and players, as well as links to NHS resources and Public Health England's "Every Mind Matters" campaign.

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