Rugby league mental health campaign shows how to connect with hard to reach men

The Offload project delivers mental health messages through rugby league to reach men from deprived areas

The Offload project delivers mental health messages through rugby league to reach men from deprived areas

Picture: iStock

Public health and mental health services need to be designed differently to engage with men, according to the manager of a successful rugby league mental health programme. 

The suicide prevention conference at the University of Salford on February 1 was told about the Offload project, a two-year pilot using current and former rugby league players to engage with men in some of the most deprived parts of England.

Run with three rugby Super League clubs in the north of England – Salford Red Devils, Widnes Vikings and Warrington Wolves – the programme has offered education on coping strategies and anger management to more than 500 men since last April. 

Emma Goldsmith, health programme manager at the Rugby League Cares charity, which runs the programme, has a background in public health. 

She said: ‘I spent eight or nine years getting cross with seniors or colleagues telling me, whether it was a weight management service or a health check service or a stop smoking service, “don’t worry if men aren’t coming to your service, it happens, men are really hard to engage. They only present in the emergency department or in cases of emergency”. That used to drive me crazy.'

Lack of chances

She added that men weren’t being given the “chance" to attend services, because they weren’t designed and marketed for them. 

The project uses 'male-friendly' language such as 'mental fitness' not 'mental health' and it runs 'fixtures' instead of sessions. 

In an 80-minute 'fixture', one half is focussed on learning about building up resilience, stress management, mindfulness and other topics. 

The second half encourages a sense of community and attendees being reliant on each other.

They are held in 'male-friendly' venues such as sports centres, working men’s club and barbershops.

Past and current professional players are involved in delivering the project and talking to men about how they manage their mental health. 

One third of participants came from the top 10% most deprived wards nationally.

Nearly half of the participants – 49% – said it increased their desire to improve their education or employment situation. 

More from the suicide prevention conference


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