Researchers at Edge Hill University have published the first study of its kind into the benefits of Rugby League Cares’s Offload programme and have concluded it is saving lives and providing those involved in the game a safe space for men to discuss mental health.
The research conducted by Professor Andy Smith, Dr David Haycock, and Rachel Wilcock has been published in the international journal, Mental Health and Physical Activity.
They concluded that Offload is an example of best practice for sport-based community mental health programmes for men, and much can be learned from how it has been designed and run.
Sport and Physical Activity Professor Andy Smith said: ‘There has been a rapid growth in community sport and mental health programmes for men, but the key design characteristics of these programmes, and the roles played by delivery staff in their conception and development, have not yet been systematically or widely studied. Our research on the Offload programme begins to rectify this.
‘Among other things, our analysis showed that men clearly preferred a non-clinical approach to discussing their mental health, often in less stigmatising environments like professional sports stadia, and using sporting analogies to support self-care. Having the sessions led by former professional sports people working alongside mental health and community sport experts made it a safe space and allowed participants to express themselves fully. This, in turn, provided great outcomes for the men involved.’
At the heart of Offload was a desire by the sport’s independent charity Rugby League Cares to base the programme on men’s needs and preferences, supported by academic research and evidence from Edge Hill. This research informed the creation of effective weekly sessions that engaged and built trust with the participants, and shaped the monitoring and evaluation of Offload.
During the initial pilot phase, Offload was run by Rugby League Cares with support from State of Mind with the aim of addressing mental health problems by inviting men to talk and engage with current and former players at Salford Red Devils, Warrington Wolves and Widnes Vikings.
The research conducted by Edge Hill has since enabled Rugby League Cares to secure funding to expand Offload at other clubs all over the UK, and the research team will continue supporting the monitoring and evaluation of the programme.