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Box In Mind: Boxing to Improve Mental Health

Anybody that reads my work will know how passionate I am about raising awareness of mental health, reducing stigma and encouraging people to be able to seek help when they are struggling. I am very fortunate that I have also been given the opportunity to do this through my work at England Boxing. This week we are announcing Box In Mind, our programme to address mental health in boxing. I have played a leading role in the programme’s development and can’t wait to see the positive difference that it will make. There are many factors that make boxing uniquely well positioned to address this issue, particularly with regards to its ability to engage young men, who are at the highest risk of suicide. I would like to share with you English Boxing’s announcement of the launch of Box In Mind.

Boxing and mental health

On World Mental Health Day England Boxing is pleased to introduce ‘Box In Mind’, an initiative to address the issue of mental health in boxing.

Central to the initiative will be the Box In Mind workshop, developed in partnership with the mental health charity, Mind. The workshop will raise awareness of mental health within boxing, with the aim of reducing the stigma associated with mental health, and encouraging people within the sport to feel able to open up and get help if they are struggling.

How boxing can help

There are a number of ways in which boxing can have a positive impact on mental health:

  • boxing clubs are based in the heart of many marginalised communities and are in a unique position to be able to engage people that may not be connected with mental health services
  • boxing offers a full-body workout that is ideal for releasing stress and increasing endorphins, and it was consistently identified as one of the most popular sports in Mind’s Get Set to Go sport and physical activity programme
  • boxing clubs have a strong community spirit, and coaches are in a position to be able to identify when people may be struggling and encourage them to seek help
  • boxing sessions can offer some order to what can otherwise be a dis-ordered week for people with mental health problems

 

England Boxing’s Matthew Williams, who is leading Box In Mind, explained,

One in four adults will experience a mental health problem in any given year. There is an increasing awareness of mental health within society but there is still a great deal of stigma, and this can prevent people from seeking help when they are struggling. This can be amplified in the tough, competitive environment of boxing.

Stephanie Ware, who co-designed the workshop, added,

As a boxing coach myself and former competitive amateur boxer, I am certain that this workshop will encourage boxing coaches and clubs to implement the small, practical changes that could help to support people experiencing mental health problems. It has been developed with input from people within the sport with lived experiences of mental health problems, and the content is built around real boxing experiences.

Champion support

Former three weight world champion Duke McKenzie MBE was involved in the development of the Box In Mind workshop. Duke, now an ambassador for Mind, commented,

In all levels of the sport you are boxing with your whole heart, mind, body and soul. You need a support network around you, you can’t manage your emotions on your own. Boxers need help with their mental health at some point. The highs and lows of boxing run through the sport at all levels, from the amateurs to the top professionals. Also, people may be coming into boxing to help alleviate problems they are facing in their lives. I’d especially recommend this workshop to coaches. I think if you really get to know the people you’re training you’ll realise that you need to attend this course.

Hayley Jarvis, Mind’s Head of Physical Activity, supports the initiative,

We think that ‘Box in Mind’ is a very positive initiative. It’s fantastic that England Boxing and the boxing community really wants to increase its awareness of mental health and, ultimately, to make itself more accessible to people with mental health problems.

We know from our own Get Set to Go programme the real benefits of sport and physical activity on mental health. People with mental health problems, however, still face significant barriers to being active, with our research suggesting that almost 70 per cent feel that their mental health makes taking part in physical activity too difficult.

Recommendations from the first phase of Get Set to Go also suggested that the sports sector build stronger relationships with local mental health providers, provide more training for staff around mental health awareness to reduce stigma, create more welcoming group environments particularly for first time attendees, involve family and friends, and give really clear communication to encourage attendance.

Making a difference in communities across the country

Delivery of the workshop will begin in November, and the work will not stop there.

“Box In Mind will help us to normalise conversations around mental health within the sport, and the workshop is just the start,” says Matthew.

By engaging the boxing community through the workshop, we anticipate that more clubs will use boxing as a positive way to address mental health, both within their clubs and their wider local communities. There are already a number of excellent projects that are doing this, including Empire Fighting Chance in Bristol, Pat Benson’s Mind-Fit in Birmingham, and London Community Boxing’s In Your Corner.

Boxing has the potential to have a real positive impact on the nation’s mental health. England Boxing, under the Box In Mind banner, look forward to leading the sport’s efforts to raise awareness, and to making a real difference to boxers, coaches, and officials within the sport.

A version of this post was previously published on Love, Laughter, Truth and is republished here with permission from the author.

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