Home > News > How football kick-started Jess’ mental health recovery

‘IT’S A GAME CHANGER’ – how football kick-started Jess’ mental health recovery

South Londoner Jess joined our Football for Health programme after a referral from her community mental health team, following a primary diagnosis of Autism, ADHD, and a secondary diagnosis of EUPD. She felt hesitant to get stuck in at first, but she soon made the sessions a regular part of her weekly exercise routine and has seen massive improvements in her mental and physical health. She hasn't returned to any inpatient mental health services since joining the session, crediting football as one of the protective factors. This is Jess' story.

28-year-old Jess from Croydon has a primary diagnosis of Autism and ADHD and a secondary diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD). She was first introduced to us via her Vocational Specialist – someone whose job it is to help people determine their career options – who highlighted our Football for Health project as a potentially helpful way to improve her mental and physical health.

Football for Health is a joint project between the South London and Maudsley (SLaM) NHS Foundation Trust and Palace for Life. Clients are referred to the programme by their community mental health team with the aim of improving their mental and physical health through weekly football training sessions. The programme is open to people of all abilities between the ages of 18-65 living in Croydon and has now been running for two years thanks to funding from the Local Voluntary Partnership Mental Health Grant, which is overseen by the Croydon Local Authority’s One Programme.

It was down to Matthew Freeberne, who is employed by SLaM and is seconded to us two days a week, to reach out to Jess to see if she might be interested in taking part. After a phone call and a few texts of encouragement, Jess decided to give it a go, despite her initial worries that she hadn’t played football since being at school. It wasn’t long before the muscle memory kicked in and she started to enjoy herself.

The benefits of physical activity and its links to our mental health are well documented, and through this project, we’re aiming to see measurable physical improvements, like weight loss, general fitness, strength, and stamina but we’re also hoping to see progress in our participants’ mental well-being, looking out for improvements in mood and sleep, a reduction in anxiety, alcohol and drug use and more confidence in social situations.

Jess’ goal when she first joined the programme was to rebuild her relationship with exercise. Having recently started recovering from anorexia, Jess was hoping that an opportunity to join weekly football sessions would support a healthy, regular workout routine, benefitting her both physically and mentally.

Outside of football, Jess said she had a limited support network and had lost a number of friends after spending a period of time in an inpatient ward at the Royal Bethlem Hospital due to her mental health. Since joining the Football for Health project, Jess hasn’t returned to any inpatient services, and during a challenging period in June 2023, she was reviewed for home treatment but declined, citing the football sessions as a protective factor. She’s even considered taking the next step to find a women’s team to play for competitively.

Jess’ mum said:

“I’m trying to encourage her to find a women’s team to join. It’s given her so much confidence and has been a real game-changer. It’s also very cool that the programme is linked to a Premier League team. It’s such a good idea. It combines exercise and confidence building. Well done to you all.’

Her coaches and peers have seen improvements in her coordination, first touches and finishing, and after a struggle with power and accuracy during shooting practices, she’s noticeably improved her striking abilities too.

Jess’ mother continued to tell us about the impact the sessions have had on her daughter:

“She absolutely loves your football sessions. It’s the one thing she really looks forward to. Thank you for giving her such a positive outlet. She comes home so happy every week and it’s given her so much confidence. She’s chuffed with her progress.”

Jess still feels overwhelmed at times, but has found Matthew’s pitch-side-support away from the game extremely helpful and has responded well to encouragement and praise, taking time out if she needs to, and recognising the signs of becoming stressed or overwhelmed. The Football for Health weekly sessions are now an established part of Jess’ weekly routine, she’s a regular attendee and a valued member of the group, and has built positive relationships with staff and her peers.

Well done Jess!

31 July 2023

Train for the Marathon March at the Palace Academy

Read More

17 September 2021

Make changes to fight climate change and support your club

Read More

11 November 2020

Virtual support group launches to support those affected by cancer

Read More