February 12, 2018 Will Whyler 0Comment
GUEST POST: Sports are more than just a fantastic escape from day tp day life, there’s also very real mental health benefits argues David James of Target Crazy.

If there’s one topic which appears regularly in the media at the moment, it’s mental health. It might be celebrities coming clean about their previous hidden mental health problems, or journalists and pressure groups highlighting the chronic under-funding of our health services over the last few years.

I often think… is this epidemic a by-product of modern western living?

Perhaps a result of economic wealth and the influence and interference of technology such as social media. Mental health issues seem less prevalent than say fifty years ago among previous generations. Are they even seen at all in the developing world?


The Problem:

Data reveals that mental health problems are definitely on the rise and here are some enlightening statistics: NHS Digital reveal that at any given time, one sixth of the UK population between the ages of six and sixty-four have a mental health problem . There are about six thousand suicides per year in the UK, the largest proportion of these people are male, accounting for three quarters of this figure. It is the biggest killer of men up to the age of forty-nine reveals the Office for National Statistics. They have control of the data gathered from the registrations of deaths in the UK.

Women are more commonly affected than men with one in five women reporting a mental health issue. That’s compared to one in eight among the male population. These figures come from NHS Digital and their Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey in 2014

The majority of mental health problems begin in childhood or early adulthood. Three quarters of problems are established by the age of twenty-four. Revealed by the Mental Health Taskforce in 2016.  Young people do seem to be particularly susceptible.

Services are underfunded…

A whopping 23% of NHS activity is taken up with mental health issues but the corresponding funding is only 11%. (The Kings Fund 2015)

Medicine use is growing…

The number of medicines dispensed for mental health related conditions and illnesses such as depression and panic attacks, has more than doubled in the last ten years. This data comes from an NHS Prescription Survey over the decade 2006-2016. These statistics may be tempered somewhat by the growing evidence that anti-depressants are a more effective way to treat some of these conditions, therefore patients tend to be prescribed these drugs for a longer period of time.


How high concentration sports can help:

The situation in the UK with regard to mental health is quite closely reflected in the US so apart from investing more money in diagnosis and treatment services, is there anything that individual people can do to help themselves?

As Prince Harry said quite recently, “everyone no matter who they are has physical health and mental health“.

Physical activity and sport has a huge part to play in promoting and sustaining good mental health but surely it is not as simple as saying, ‘go for a run, it will take your mind off things’?  Sport in general is very much in vogue at the moment, not just for the evident physical health benefits but for the well documented effect that physical activity can have on the mind.

This is because when we exercise, the brain releases certain chemicals which can help with mood and alleviate issues such as anxiety and depression, even if only for defined periods.  Also of course collective sport, where we engage with other people whether as a group or in a team, also promotes our mental health as it offers interaction with others, fundamental for a healthy mind and outlook.

If sport is beneficial therefore to the state of our mind, surely high concentration sports must be the best elixir for those struggling with mental health issues?

The Four C’s

The four key mental factors in sport are considered to be:

  • Concentration
  • Confidence
  • Control
  • Commitment

The demand for concentration varies with the sport and is divided into three types:

  • Sustained concentration – relevant to sports with an endurance element such as long distance running, cycling marathons or tennis matches
  • Short burst concentration – evident in golf and cricket and short sprint field events
  • Intense concentration – sprinting, bobsleigh, target archery, darts, skeet or clay shooting

Negative emotions such as anxiety, anger or depression can affect the ability to concentrate so is this not a chicken and egg scenario?

Learning techniques to concentrate intensely for short periods of time are fundamental to sporting success and can also have proven benefits for those who are struggling with mental health issues, ergo high concentration sports can be an excellent mechanism to help support mental health in a whole range of people. Whether it is supportive to existing conditions or to some degree preventative.

This is because the amount of focus required trains the brain to concentrate on the here and now, to ignore negative self-talk and doubt by utilizing positive self-talk. Employing strategies such as ‘parking’ techniques to temporarily remove unhelpful thoughts and emotions and put them to one side for a defined period of time.

Focusing on the here and now and forgetting your negative emotions is key to sporting success

From this, it is easy to understand why all these techniques used by successful athletes in high concentration sports, can have a positive effect on almost anyone.

This is an abridged version of a longer article – to read the full version click here.

David James is the founder of targetcrazy.com. He’s a passionate bowman and a fan of all target sports in general.

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