Mental Health and Sport

I am pleased to present a paper on Mental Health and Sport, as it is a first for me in taking a different perspective of sport.  All too often, people think of the physical benefits but not on the mental benefits that can occur.

First of all, let me explain what Step by Step is.  Step by Step is the second stage of the National Mental Health Education Project for young deaf people and is of two years duration.  Its main purpose is to promote positive mental health opportunities for young deaf people.  Our major funders are Foundation for Young Australians and Vicdeaf.

We have two project workers - Kate Chivers (hearing with two deaf siblings) and Kim Kavanagh (deaf).

Our logo took a long time to take shape but what we have is perfect!  The Australian map represents the national focus of our project.  The three figures outlines the level of mental health - the yellow one as an achiever (with the sign for achieve), the middle one being open to learning (with arms outstretched to welcome challenges) and the blue one withdrawing from the world (body turned away with head dropped low).  We also used reverse psychology with the figures, as you will note that the aboriginal person is successful, the European person is growing towards to being a successful person and the Anglo-Saxon is struggling through life.

Since this is a national project, we have set up a National Reference Group.  There is at least one Deaf Society representative in each state to give us feedback on the actions we take.

In promoting positive mental health, Step by Step gives young deaf people opportunities to express themselves and working with families, schools, deaf community and mental health service providers.  Planned outcomes of the project are: distribution of magazines focusing on life skills for deaf youth, web site and pen pal club, parent information leaflets, educational programs and guidelines for mental health service providers when dealing with young deaf people.

Mental Health is about '…our ability and opportunity to interact with each other and the world around us in ways that promote our physical, social, emotional and intellectual wellbeing.' (Kris Chapman)

Mental Health is often confused with mental illness so Step by Step aims to educate people on the differences of these two words.  Mental illness is common with 1-5 people going through it however a majority (80%) of people is placed between mental health and mental illness; having good and bad days which is perfectly normal.  If a person has more bad days for a long time, the person is more at risk in getting mental health problems thus leading to mental illness.

Like physical health, we can work on our mental health by looking after ourselves and balancing our commitments.  It is so easy to forget about yourself and concentrate on the things that need to be done.  You may get in the habit of ignoring your body needs! 

There are links with mental health and physical health: Physical
Eat a varied diet    Do different things   
Enough sleep and relaxation    Also important for the mind to rest   
Cut down junk food, salt, sugar and fat    Cut down negative thoughts by challenging them   
Fit & healthy body  A cheerful and positive personality

This is where I come in - to speak about mental health and sport.  Mental Health and Sport both contribute to a person's outlook on life.  Sport also has a strong historical link with the Deaf community and still is linked.

There are four major benefits in the mental health aspect of sport:   Positive self-esteem: identifying with other deaf people, making new friends, time out from stress and participating in sport more equally

Stress Management: opportunities to control negative emotions i.e.: anger, express physical energy in controlled activities, giving our mind a break from problems and learning skills on how to cope with pressure during competition/training

Feelings of belonging and inclusion: deaf people around us, part of a team and community, visual communication, understanding of being deaf, new friends and learning new things   
Leadership opportunities: to give their best, to be involved as player, captain, coach, committee member, umpire/referee, and/or be a role model

To represent a state or country

To share ideas, advice and support 

I had also taken the opportunity to conduct focus groups all over Australia and look into some research materials and this is what I came up with:

Focus groups that consists of parents, teachers and members of the Deaf community) -

  1. discrimination still occurs - unequal access to information via coaching and umpiring
  2. Sport is popular in mainstream schools between deaf and hearing students
  3. Sport does not rely heavily on communication thus being more equal in playing
  4. Sport promotes INDEPENDENCE

Research material - "Sport and Recreation Needs Survey for Deaf People in Victoria - 1992': This survey was controlled by a hearing person but has five deaf researchers involved.  The findings has revealed that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents and that most deaf people are integrated into schools; deaf facilities and support services such as visiting teachers.

Now, think of this question "What does hearing sports really provide?"

  1. there are not enough coaches who can communicate with deaf players or are 'deaf aware'
  2. limited or non-existent access to deaf sporting role models
  3. more choice in choosing level of competition

Think about that - has things really changed for the better?  This survey was done in 1992 and it is still an issue for the 20th century.  What is going to be done?

What does the results mean?

  1. Sport remains to be the major source of interaction in all areas for deaf people.
  2. Deaf children in hearing families do not have access to deaf friendly information as the first point of contact is usually from a medical source.
  3. Parents find it hard to accept their child is deaf and make efforts to integrate that is a common reaction as 'medical experts' gives them advice.
  4. Deaf children of hearing parents can grow up feeling isolated.  Questions on equal access, identity and independence development were raised.  This all depends on the family's support and views which can impact on the deaf child's identity development and self-esteem

What are the Pros and Cons of Deaf Sports?
Cultural needs
Visual communication
Role Models
Availability of state and international competition
Lack of qualified coaches
Limited level of competition
Lack of Awareness in wider community
What can WE do?   
Promote your sport to the wider community and schools   
Link up with Parents Groups   
Link up with Service Providers   
Encourage and negotiate for deaf people to qualify as coaches   
Make the most of your Deaf role models; sport and youth leaders.

We need to reach out to various groups, including youth groups, in order to recruit and challenge our future sporting members.  When I say "Deaf role models; sport and youth leaders", they do not need to be only players but these role models can be involved in the deaf community.  For example, John Lovett AM in his role as CISS president and his standing in the deaf community is one of the many sporting role models you can find. There are many role models out there - we just need to know how to involve them in promoting sport for us.  Australia is blessed with several excellent role models from sport and youth.

Don't lose our sporting future!  Let's keep our sporting heritage alive with the continuation of sports on a local, state and national level.  Sport will stay if we work for it together.  Our future generation relies on us for today and every day for promotion of mental health, self-acceptance and independence via sport.

It's in our hands!