Young People, Movement and Mental Wellbeing

Active Essex

As this week is Mental Health Awareness Week, our Active Essex Mental Wellbeing Steering Group hosted a special meeting in which young people were invited along to discuss how exercise can benefit mental wellbeing. In particular the group were interested in exploring the ways in which the Essex ActivAte programme and all the organisations within this can support children who may be experiencing poor mental health, and how clubs can overcome barriers to getting active. The meeting included Active Essex team members, representatives from organisations with experience in delivering Mental Wellbeing Hubs, and two young people (Liz and Holly) who have attended clubs run by these organisations.

We hope that by speaking directly to young people and specialist organisations across the county, we can gain a deeper understanding of how to maximise the mental wellbeing benefits of physical activity, help overcome barriers to physical and mental wellbeing, and develop our understanding of how to support those with poor mental health.

Barriers to new activities

The main barriers that Liz and Holly referred to in relation to trying new clubs or activities were the competitive and aggressive nature of many sports, and fear of the unknown. After discussing these barriers, the group talked through a number of ways to overcome these barriers. These included communicating what a session will look like in advance of attendance, sharing stories from participants to put new people at ease, having a buddy system or peer support in place, and being open and understanding to every young person attending a club. In particular a number of steering group members said they had seen the positive impact of introducing a buddy system within their clubs, with children feeling more comfortable, making friends and being more open to trying new things as a result.

Activities for those with Anxieties

Interestingly, Liz and Holly suggested that group activities may actually be most suitable for someone facing a mental health struggle such an anxiety, as they would not need to be the centre of attention, therefore they suggested activities such as dance, athletics and other ‘friendly’ team sports such as rounders. However they also felt that there should be a variety of activities on offer, as everyone’s mental wellbeing is different, so some people may enjoy independent activities, less competitive sports or a calmer environment.

Food & Mental Wellbeing

Liz and Holly quickly highlighted that eating nutritious foods can make your body and mind feel better. They did however also note that it’s important to enjoy treats as a reward sometimes, and that people should not be too hard on themselves for enjoying a treat as part of a balanced diet, as putting too much pressure on yourself can also lead to mental health difficulties. When conversation moved onto eating disorders, Liz and Holly had some really powerful ideas when it came to making someone feel more comfortable, including providing a distraction to avoid making food a focus, or talking about a subject that a person is passionate about. Notably, these suggestions can also be transferred across to anyone facing mental wellbeing struggles, as activity providers can use fun activities to provide an escape for some youngsters, or to open the door to conversation.

Family Support

Within this final discussion point the group explored the importance of involving families when supporting the mental wellbeing of young people. Steering group members placed significance on inviting parents/guardians along for a chat before, after and during sessions, to build a community around a young person. As such, families can also share ideas and support one another, to help tackle social isolation and loneliness. When supporting children or families in relation to mental wellbeing, everyone agreed that it’s vital that club/activity providers are able to recognise the signs of mental health difficulties and offer support, but most importantly signpost to qualified experts who can advise on the best route forward.


We would like to extend a huge thank you to Liz and Holly who came along to share their views. Their input and the views of experts within the steering group will be used to inform future decision making across the Essex ActivAte programme, the wider work of Active Essex and of our partners. Off the back of this meeting, the Essex ActivAte team have already begun plans to enhance mental wellbeing support on both the Family Support page and important signposting information on the Partner Hub. The steering group will also be sharing their learning with our network of locally trusted organisations, so that every club, programme or activity session is inclusive and supportive.


Over the past week our partners have been speaking to young people at their clubs and sessions to ask how they look after their mental wellbeing. Take a look at the slides below to find out what they said…

MHW Quotes by Laura Dickinson