Arsenal in the Community

Helping girls with their mental health

Partnership funding from Islington Giving and The Arsenal Foundation has allowed the Brandon Centre, a local mental health charity, to send a psychotherapist to The Arsenal Hub one day a week for youngsters taking part in our Arsenal Girls Kicks programme. Pavlos Rossolymos, head of mental health at the Brandon Centre, tells us about it.

“The Brandon Centre and Arsenal in the Community have developed a close partnership to support the Arsenal Girls Kicks community football programme from a mental health perspective. We’ve done this by placing an experienced sport and exercise psychologist within the practice sessions to help support the emotional wellbeing and resilience of the girls by weaving wellbeing and resilience-building skills into the sessions. By building trusting relationships with the girls, she is also able to gauge if one of them requires additional individual support.

“Having a psychotherapist at The Arsenal Hub means we can refer young people who don’t meet the threshold to be referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service but are still very much in need of a clinical intervention. The fact that this service is available at the Hub helps to combat some of the stigma around accessing mental health services. The girls who visit have discussed a wide range of topics such as body changes, exam stress, Black Lives Matter and how to improve their wellbeing.

“The last 18 months have been particularly challenging for young people. Some parents lost their jobs, which placed financial stress on their families. Young people struggled during the multiple lockdowns and school closures, feeling socially isolated from their peers. Many young people and families – particularly from BAME backgrounds – were also directly affected by coronavirus when members of their families became ill, with some passing away. All of these stressors had an adverse impact on mental health, with an increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

“During lockdown, when practical delivery of football sessions was impossible, the programme provided remote online workshops. These focused on wellbeing topics such as mindfulness meditation, but also fun activities for the girls such as online quizzes. The purpose was to maintain the sense of belonging that the girls felt when they attended sessions, and to maintain their connection with the programme. 

“We’re now back to delivering regular, practical football sessions that boost wellbeing and resilience. For example, the girls learn about deliberate practise and how to be purposeful in the way they play and try to advance their skills. Other themes include effective communication (on and off the pitch), emotional awareness (our own and others’ thoughts and feelings), being present using mindfulness skills, thinking about strengths and values, introducing the girls to a growth mindset and learning how to recover from setbacks. This also gives them transferable skills they can use away from football. 

“As for the future, we’re looking forward to further developing our work with the girls at Arsenal, strengthening their resilience skills and overall wellbeing. We’ll continue to weave in the key themes and skills that are useful on and off the pitch.”

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