AN OXFORDSHIRE rugby club that prides itself on supporting mental wellbeing has opened up about the importance of community spirit as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.

Bicester RUFC puts as much emphasis on supporting mental health as physical health, raising awareness among parents and volunteers and securing grant funding to have trained mental health first aiders for every team and section of the club.

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Tackling the stigma around mental health has been at the forefront of their plans, with the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns putting extra pressure on their junior members.

“The past 12 months have taken a mental toll on many of us, especially young people,” said Craig Morley, Under 8s coach and club secretary.

“I’ve had conversations with parents in the club who are experiencing increasing challenging and aggressive behaviour from their children, who were previously well balanced.

“And while the true impact of lockdowns on young people is only just starting to be understood, they have been experiencing worsening mental health for years, particularly with online bullying.

“Rugby clubs can not only provide an outlet for young people to let off steam, they build a sense of community and a support network.

“Playing team sports after long periods of isolation can help improve happiness and wellbeing. Being around friends and teammates who care about us can make a huge difference.

“The club, team coaches and volunteers have an important role to play in supporting good mental health.”

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Many people will experience a mental health problem in their lives, which is why the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Simplyhealth, as the trusted healthcare partner to England Rugby and the official lead partner for the RugbySafe player welfare programme, have developed a dedicated mental health resource for the community game.

The aim is to provide additional assistance for rugby clubs which are so often support hubs for their local communities.

The new guide, researched and prepared by the Mental Health Foundation, provides advice to help rugby communities recognise symptoms of poor mental health and direct members towards professionals if needed.

It complements a series of mental health question and answer sessions for players and volunteers during lockdown. Like Bicester, rugby clubs across the country are also mindful of the part they play in members’ lives and are keen to help.

RFU chief executive Bill Sweeney said: “I am impressed by the progress that we as a sport and a society have made in removing the stigma around talking about mental health.”

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