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Sport Northern Ireland, Ulster University and the Public Health Agency marked World Mental Health Day by recognising the critical role of sport in protecting and supporting mental wellbeing. Together with a range of partners, we have pledged to establish a Mental Health and Wellbeing in Sport Forum and to publish an Action Plan developed by partners, in the coming weeks.

We are all affected by the unacceptably high levels of metal ill health in our communities. A mature society recognises that when one member is diminished, it affects us all; the taboo that still exists around poor mental ill-health diminishes us further.

Mental illness is the largest cause of ill health and disability in Northern Ireland and has higher levels of mental ill health than any other region in the UK. It is estimated that around 45,000 children and young people in NI have a mental health problem at any one time and that more than 20% of young people are suffering ‘significant mental health problems’ by the time they reach 18.

Positive engagement in sport is associated with an array of physical, emotional and psychosocial health benefits.

A barrier to mental health help-seeking in sport is stigma. This is something that we all can address by enhancing our knowledge and understanding.  Remember is ‘It’s OK to Talk’.

Antoinette McKeown, Chief Executive Officer of Sport Northern Ireland said:

“We want to celebrate the power of partnership on World Mental health Day and to thank the PHA for being so active in the area of mental health and sport for many years now and for their commitment to working with Sport NI.”

“Sport NI also wants to thank the many organisations who have worked with us for the past two and half years in developing an Action Plan for wellbeing in sport and for sharing your expertise.”

Dr Gavin Breslin, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise at Ulster University said:

"Mental health is a key research priority for Ulster University. We are delighted to be working with Sport NI, the PHA and other key stakeholders to develop the wellbeing in sport action plan.”

“Our new Institute of mental health sciences is taking a multidisciplinary approach to mental health, from gene to gym. And our research will inform this very important action plan to support wellbeing in sport."

On World Mental Health Day, Paddy Barnes a boxing gold medallist at the Delhi and Glasgow Commonwealth Games and also a double Olympic bronze medallist became Sport Northern Ireland’s first ambassador for Wellbeing in Sport.

Paddy Barnes, double Commonwealth Games gold medallist and Sport NI’s ambassador for Wellbeing in Sport said:

“I really honoured to be Sport Northern Ireland’s ambassador for Wellbeing in Sport and I am going to use the position to highlight mental awareness as much as I can and get rid of the stigma that if you’re masculine or seem to be tough you can’t talk to anyone and that is not the case ‘It’s ok not to be ok’ and just talk because when you talk to somebody about your problems it takes a great weight off your shoulders.”

Brendan Bonner, Acting Assistant Director of Public Health at the PHA, said:

“The Public Health Agency recognises that sport can play a key role in the health and wellbeing of our communities. Being active is good for both our physical and mental health, and being involved in sporting activities can create social bonds and friendships. Sport can also provide an opportunity for people to support each other and identify issues that may be affecting someone’s wellbeing."