With one in four people experiencing a Mental Health problem every year, it's important to try and break down the barriers surrounding Mental Health. The inclusive work at the Foundation sees us engage with over 20,000 people per year, delivering sport as a tool of empowerment for all.
We spoke to our Community Sports Manager, Austin Hughes, about the work the Foundation does to support not only its participants but its staff members...
Tell us a bit about yourself and your role?
My name is Austin and I'm the Community Sports Manager at the Foundation. I'm responsible for managing the Community Sports Department which includes some of the programmes such as Kicks. Before I worked at the Foundation I worked for a little while as a partner, so consulted on bits of work that were going on around the Foundation and the Club. I also did some consulting for a number of charities around autism and mental health.
What is your experience with Mental Health and how does it affect you?
I'm bi-polar and it's been something that has impacted on my life fairly hard. I've been lucky enough to work with a number of Mental Health charities and worked with groups that are there to support youngsters, or young people that might have some mental health conditions that are having an impact on their life. So not only have I got experience of working with people with mental health issues, but I also have my own, so I've got a fairly good awareness of how people feel and just how much of a negative it can be on someone's life.
How have you found it working with the West Ham United?
It's been really good working here, one thing I've always been aware of about the Foundation, and the Club as a whole, is that I am supported. People know if I'm a little bit quiet they might just come and engage and make sure I'm OK. But being here I feel supported it's great to have a job that understands, and an employer that is ultimately there for me and they're there to make sure that I'm OK, not just in my work but they check on me at home and see if there's anything they can do to support me and I think that's really important.
Tell us about the Trustees Staff Award you won last year?
Last year I won the Trustees Staff Award for some of the hard work I do. Sometimes I do go the extra mile, as do all the staff here at the Foundation but it made me feel good and it made me feel that I am an important part of the machine that works here at the Foundation and that's nice. Everybody needs that extra pat on the back once in a while in life, but I think for anyone that's sometimes suffering, to have that little moment where a little light is shone makes you feel good about things.
Why did you want to talk about Mental Health?
I want to talk about Mental Health and because I know myself in life how difficult it has been. There needs to be more awareness, more people need to be prepared to stand up and say, 'I might be suffering a little bit, or I might need some help'. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma, people shouldn't be afraid to say they have a mental health problem or to seek help. I think if someone like me can stand up and say look 'this is me - I work for the West Ham Foundation I come under the West Ham umbrella. I'm here, having a great time and living the dream'. It's important to let people know that you can get on with life and there are people out there who are there to support you and help you if you need it.
How does sport help?
Sport is really important in dealing with Mental Health. If you were to look at how much I walk and travel every day I walk miles and miles. That helps me because when you're being active it releases loads of happy endorphins, so physical activity can help you to feel that little bit more positive about things. When you're feeling more positive about things you're more likely to engage with other people and get into your work a bit more.
If you take a look at the youngsters around us on this pitch, I can almost guarantee that there's someone out there who's struggling at the moment. It might not be that they've got a lifelong condition, but it could be that they're feeling a bit depressed about school and things, you come here, you run around and burn off some of that negative energy which just helps to raise that person and change their life. Any activity is great, sport, football, love it - we need to get more people active.
If you would like to get involved with the Foundation get in touch!
MIND offers a range of services to people experiencing a mental health problem, for further information please visit their website: www.mind.org.uk