THE last two years of living in lockdown may have had a profound effect on mental health, only now becoming apparent when coming out the other side.

There is a new initiative being set up by the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) to use the power of sport to help manage mental health and wellbeing.

Sports have always been a good way not just to get fit, but help mental health by meeting new people.

This helped me in my teens - I was involved in sports as I played football and was in a running club.

This new initiative from SAMH and sportscotland found that 60% of Scots who have been active through the pandemic said it has a positive impact on their wellbeing.

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More than half said it helped them to relax or switch off, and over a third found that it made them feel less anxious.

The initiative is part of Scotland's Mental Health Charter for physical activity and sport, which has made great progress in supporting people to increase their confidence and self-esteem and to reduce isolation.

SAMH has created new material and resources designed for clubs and community organisations to support people living with mental health issues into exercise.

Working together, the four charter commitments promote, collaborate, include and reflect.

Stewart Harris, chief executive of sportscotland, said: "We know from our work in communities across the country that sport and physical activity has a very positive and sometimes life changing effect on health and wellbeing, but it also clear that we must do more to encourage to take advantage of the opportunities available to them. 

"By working in collaboration, the sporting system access Scotland can help break down the barriers to participation, challenge, stigma and help make a very real difference to the lives of those people faced with mental health challenges.

"That why we are delighted to support Scotland's mental health charter for physical activity and sport."

Abby, 19, said: "Sport saved my life."

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She is now encouraging others who experience pool mental health to discover sport.

"It not only builds physical strength but helps your mental health to grow stronger," she said.

As Abby struggled with anxiety and an eating disorder in her early teens, a condition she has had since birth called Ehlers (EDS)  - which causes your joints to easily dislocate causing a lot of pain - worsened and left her unable to walk, needing to use a wheelchair.

"I was a competitive swimmer up until the age of 13 and loved cross country running, physical exercise was my life," she recalled.

"But it was taken away from me overnight. My condition became so bad that I ended up being housebound for six months.

"I become very anxious, depressed and ashamed of my disability. I accessed Forth Valley Disability Sport when I was at breaking point and looking for a way to meet like-minded people in my local area. Sport wasn't the main motivator for joining, I found the social aspect helped save my life.

"It's the chats with someone before and after you take part in a sport that really helped me. I found myself meeting new people and really looking forward to going back."

Billy Watson, chief executive of SAMH, said: "Hundreds of organisations have signed up to the character since we launched. We are now targeting local clubs and community organisations from the border to out isolation who can help people with mental health problems access sport and physical activity."

There is sport out there for everyone, whether it's a local walking group or trying bowls to more accessible sport like pickleball or boccia.

It's the mental benefits that we hear time and time again that make a difference. Sport clubs can create a warm and welcome environment for like-minded people, and help to widen social circles - which is a great driver for breaking down the barriers to physical activity and sport.

  • Michael McEwan is a freelance writer