Leading sporting organisations call on political leaders to ‘unlock power of sport’ to tackle mental health crisis

Open letter for World Mental Health Day ()

On World Mental Health Day, leading sporting organisations from across the UK have penned an open letter to the leaders of all political parties, sounding the alarm on the intensifying mental health crisis among young people.

Federations, event providers and campaigning groups are asking political leaders to ‘unlock the power of sport’ to play a significant role in supporting the physical and mental well-being of the nation, starting with our children.

As the letter states;

  • We’re failing too many of our children, who leave school unfit, inactive and dealing with poor mental health on an unprecedented scale.
  • The number of children and young people in mental health crises reached record levels this year. In the year to March 2023 there were 21,555 urgent referrals to mental health crisis teams, up 46% on 2022.
  • All signatories, from grassroots community clubs to the UK’s biggest mass participation running events, have seen the profound and positive effect physical activity can have on mental health and wellbeing in children and adults. 
  • Meanwhile, data released by the government earlier this year showed the number of hours young people spend doing physical education and sport in secondary schools in England has fallen by more than 12% since the 2012 London Olympics. 
  • Poor mental health costs the nation £53-£56 billion a year. We spend more on healthcare, directly linked to inactivity, than all but two countries in Europe.
  • The Sport and Recreation sector already saves the NHS an estimated £9.5 billion through preventing illness overall. The latest evidence shows increased access to physical activity could add another £1 billion to that total annually
  • According to recent data from the Sport and Recreation Alliance, we currently rank a low joint 11th out of 15 neighbouring European nations in activity levels.

The letter also emphasises: "A lifetime of activity, leading to a happier, healthier population needs to start and be embedded throughout our school years."

It ends with a potent call to action: "We’re calling on all party leaders to put physical and health literacy at the heart of the future school curriculum, giving all children and young people access to high-quality PE, co-curricular activity, and community provision."

The letter is jointly signed by England Athletics, Welsh Athletics, Scottish Athletics, Athletics NI, Youth Sport Trust, Sport and Recreation Alliance, Run 4 Wales, London Marathon Events, The Great Run Company, The Daily Mile and parkrun. 

The signatories are urging politicians to respond and actively integrate sports and physical activity into the nation's mental health and education strategies to provide a long-term solution to this growing crisis.