Humans of Grassroots Sport | Dr Phil Cooper
16 January 2020 • By - Tom Yorke
Read time 2 minutes
Dr Phil Cooper, State of Mind founder, discusses the ability that rugby has to tackle mental health issues
The idea for State of Mind Sport popped into my head after reading a terribly sad story in the Rugby League paper about Terry Heaton taking his own life. It was in 2010 and he was one of the hardest to play the game – it hit home that there can be so much going on in private lives that we would never know about until people open up.
I am a passionate rugby league fan, but my day job is working for the NHS as a nurse consultant dealing with severe mental health issues and drug and alcohol addictions.
After reading about Terry I spoke with my NHS bosses about what we can do to help people having mental health issues. From there we teamed up with Rugby League to try to make a difference and prevent suicides in our sport. With three colleagues, our initial idea was for a one-off conference, but it quickly became apparent there was scope for much more.
We thought that a round of fixtures dedicated to talking about mental health would help keep the conversation relevant over a longer period. The RFL backed us and State of Mind Sport was born.
State of Mind Sport is a charity that tackles the issue of mental health and works to promote positive mental wellbeing among sportsmen and women, fans and wider communities, and ultimately to prevent suicide.
The project raises awareness around issues surrounding mental health and delivers clinically backed education on the subject to all levels of sport, business, education and community groups.
It would not have been possible without the support from the clubs and CEOs running them. Our origins were focused on the professional game, but it was always in our plans to support the local communities and fans which makes the game what it is today.
Rugby League is fortunate to have a really close community. There were lots of people involved in all parts of the game that would talk to us.
Emma Rosewarne, head of player welfare at Rugby League Cares, the charity arm of the game and has been hugely influential is helping us spread the message of good mental wellbeing. She introduced the RFL to Sporting Chance, the charity set-up and run by former footballer Tony Adams and now supports professional players at all levels.
Rugby is an incredibly popular sport and reaches across many different groups. It gives us the perfect way to engage with people in a social and fun environment. There is still a stigma around visiting a mental health clinic, but if you invite people to a talk at a rugby club about mental fitness then it’s considerably easier.
Young males are the hardest group to engage with and that’s why sport is such an important hook for us. Former players are involved in the project who talk about their own struggles and hammer home that mental fitness is just as important as speed, strength, talent and tactics.
Our future looks incredibly exciting as we continue our work in other male dominated industries, including construction and factories. We’re working with Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE) to encourage employees to focus on mental wellbeing. This means we can charge a fee to corporate companies and invest this back into other projects.
Legacy is everything for us. If we can educate people to look for signs and be there to help people when they are ready to talk – then we have achieved something massive. Much of the money we receive from corporate projects is invested into delivering training in sports clubs and now to train sports club volunteers to become Mental Health First Aiders – we’re always looking for support to ensure we can continue prevent suicides.
To find out more about State of Mind Sport visit www.stateofmindsport.org