Arsenal works with Islington Giving and the Brandon Centre on a project to help support young people with mental health issues by offering a counselling service at The Arsenal Hub, home of Arsenal in the Community.
The roots of this project lie in a programme called Brandon Connect, a service funded by Islington Giving providing outreach therapeutic support to 16 to 25-year-olds living in Islington who have emotional and mental health difficulties that are a barrier to them being in education, employment or training – for example, depression and social anxiety that have become a barrier to the young person being able to move on in life.
The service aims to address the difficulties that are holding the young person back and also focuses on what he would like to achieve. It is goal focused and solution oriented. The service has strong links with local employment support providers and creative projects and can help ‘bridge’ young people into these services. Brandon Connect focuses on young men and therefore welcomes referrals of Islington young men who are feeling stuck and are struggling to access support.
A key link between Brandon Connect and Arsenal in the Community is project clinician Geoffrey Baruch. “I have been at the Brandon Centre for 30 years, and between 1992 and 2018 I was the director of the Centre,” he says. “I have since continued to work in a clinical capacity in mental health on Brandon Connect and the young people’s counselling service in partnership with Arsenal in the Community at The Arsenal Hub.
“The Brandon Connect service is vital in supporting young people’s mental health,” he explains. “We found that young men are less likely than young women with similar problems to seek help from and engage with mental health services. The primary problem in nearly all cases presented in this part of the project has been social anxiety – the persistent, intense and chronic fear of being judged by others and of being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions. Their fear can be so severe that it interferes with work, school or other activities. The likelihood of young men not engaging with mental health services is often increased when they suffer from chronic social anxiety.
“Some of the young people attending Arsenal in the Community programmes were struggling with emotional and behaviour problems but were not accessing local mental health services, perhaps due to stigma and lengthy waiting times. Our sessions at The Hub have become an extension of the Brandon Connect service.”
The approach is flexible and includes outreach, behavioural experiments, CBT and psychotherapy. “Behavioural experiments are an evidence-based intervention for tackling social anxiety,” says Baruch. “The aim is for people to develop confidence and a sense of achievement when helped to engage in the world outside the home, and thereby overcome their anxieties.
The effects of Covid
Many young people have faced emotional and mental health challenges since the Covid-19 pandemic began in the early months of 2020.
“Typically they are stuck at home and many have dropped out of education,” says Baruch. “They often have sleeping problems: they sleep most of the day and are up at night playing games or on social media. Typically they live with their mother, with or without siblings, and either they don’t have contact with their father or the quality of contact is poor.
“In other words, they may not have positive male role models. In fact these issues are no different post-pandemic, except that repeated lockdowns exacerbated and reinforced referred young men’s negative strategies for managing social anxiety.
“Referrals from Arsenal in the Community have also included functioning individuals who are struggling with anxiety that has affected their participation in Arsenal in the Community programmes. Either way, these people need help. Support from Islington Giving, combined with funding from The Arsenal Foundation, has allowed long-term work that is scarce in NHS mental health services but is needed to help many young people with chronic social anxiety, generalised anxiety or depression.”
Time and space for girls
This isn’t just a project for the boys. The ties between Arsenal, Islington Giving and the Brandon Centre also gives girls attending Arsenal Kicks sessions the opportunity to work on their own emotional wellbeing, away from both the family and school environment.
“I’m a chartered sport and exercise psychologist whose practice is centred around helping people lead a more meaningful and values-based life,” says Osiro Imoedemhe, the clinician who delivers this element of the programme. “My primary focus with the Arsenal Girls Kicks Programme is to provide psycho-education and one-to-one support for the girls who attend.
“The topics we focus on are aimed at improving football performance but are also heavily wellbeing-oriented so that what they learn is applicable to day-to-day life. Some of the participants are from backgrounds where they may not necessarily have access to wellbeing education and support like this, so having someone to talk to about things that are going on in their lives is vital, especially if they’re able do that while playing a sport they love.”
The football sessions have benefits in their own right, but can also open a door for girls who are struggling in other aspects of life.
“I’ve also found that a lot of the young people I work with – who spend five days a week in school, in the classroom and sitting at desks – don’t really enjoy learning in the traditional way,” says Imoedemhe. “The Kicks sessions mean they’re getting physical exercise – which we know is great for mental health – and then on top of that they’re learning skills that promote wellbeing and performance. I think it’s a great way of doing things.
“With football, you’re meeting new people, you’re learning social skills, you’re learning communication skills and about teamwork, all of which are vital for every aspect of life. If we can help young people master these skills early on, it will help them navigate their way through life so much better.
New sense of purpose
“On top of general football practice I add things like purposeful practice, so how do we make the most out of every moment? How do we, if we’re trying to develop a skill, become intentional at developing that skill? And how can we translate that practice into things like homework, studying for exams and bigger life events?
“I’m trying to teach them and show them that yes, we can do it for football, but this also applies to when you’re home at seven o’clock on the PlayStation instead of doing your homework,” says Imoedemhe. “How do we learn to do what matters in the moment so that we are setting our future selves up for success?
“For me, seeing some of those girls who came in alone not knowing anyone on the programme flourish, making friends and just have a good time is really rewarding. You definitely see some of the more shy and less vocal girls coming out of their shells, communicating with their peers more, contributing more to sessions and just having a go at new things and trying. And that’s something that I always encourage them to do – to try. If you don’t try, how are you going to know what and how to improve next time?”
For more information on how the Brandon Centre offers support to young people click here
For more on Islington Giving’s mental health appeal click here
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