May 19, 2023
In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, we’re highlighting partners and network members who are working to improve mental wellbeing through sport. Today, learn more about London-based club, Minds United Football Club CIC, which uses football to connect its local community and reduce isolation. We spoke to Club President Tarik Kaidi who shared on the club’s mission and activities.
Created in July 2019 by Kaidi, Minds United supports the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of adults in Kensington, Chelsea and parts of North and West London who are living with a range of mental health and substance abuse issues. It started with "turn up and play" football sessions and began running wellbeing sessions in 2020. The club's primary focus is to promote positive mental health and wellbeing and reduce isolation by providing a safe and supportive environment where people can connect with others who are going through similar experiences.
Local resident Kaidi credits football with playing a massive role in his recovery after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He therefore created the club to support others going through similar challenges. “Sport and football are powerful tools for promoting inclusion and mental wellbeing, providing opportunities for physical activity, social connection and skill development. Participating in football can provide individuals with a sense of purpose and belonging. It can help participants to feel part of a community and develop meaningful relationships with others. This sense of connection and belonging is important for mental wellbeing, as it can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.”
He explained that there are several barriers to mental health that he’s seen in the local community: stigma and discrimination, lack of access to resources, cultural and linguistic barriers, lack of education and awareness; and social isolation and loneliness.
Recognizing that addressing the barriers requires a comprehensive, community-based approach, the club prioritizes mental health education, outreach programs, awareness, access to resources and social support. It also promotes social connection through social activities and community events, encouraging individuals to reach out to others who may be struggling.
The club exclusively participates in football leagues and tournaments that are focused on mental health and wellbeing and prioritize support and awareness. Over the years, it has grown to 400 members and has formed multiple teams made up of players ranging from 16 to 68 years old. As of 2022, 95% of its players reported improved mental wellbeing. The North West London league also fields a women's only division.
“These leagues provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment where individuals with mental health conditions can come together to enjoy the benefits of physical activity and team sports. This focus on mental health distinguishes mental health football leagues from other community football leagues, which may not prioritize mental health support or awareness,” Kaidi explained.
Minds United creates peer support networks and partners with local organizations to refer individuals that want or need support. It also supports the employment and development of players to help them thrive off the pitch and often acts as an outlet for many in the community who are facing difficult situations.
“Our free football program has become an essential resource for individuals in the community who are struggling with their mental health during these challenging times with the cost-of-living crisis. Mental health football programs can provide a supportive environment where individuals can discuss their concerns and receive guidance and support. The pandemic has highlighted the need for mental health football programs and increased awareness of the important role that sports can play in promoting health.”
In the lead-up to the UK's Mental Health Awareness Week (May 15 - May 21), the club supported the 2023 Grenfell Memorial Cup at St. Georges Park in London on May 14 . The special event recognized the approaching sixth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, which occurred on June 14, 2017, where a high-rise fire broke out in the 24-story Grenfell Tower block of flats in West London and burned for 60 hours, killing 72 people and injuring 70.
The Memorial Cup was organized by Grenfell survivors, goalkeeper Karim Mussilhy and Minds United FC head coach Paul Menacer. Menacer shared that the traumatic event negatively impacted his mental health, leaving him with PTSD, psychotic episodes and insomnia. Minds United helped him after he joined in 2021, first as a player and then a volunteer.
“Minds United has had a major effect on my mental health and it’s made me see that there’s more than one way to get support instead of being on very strong medications. I feel as if the sessions are the same as talking therapy. I know I won’t get better overnight and it will be a long time before I start to feel like myself again, but I feel being part of this club will help me in the long run for my mental health."
“Mental Health Awareness Week is every week for our club,” says Kaidi on the relevance of the day as an important opportunity to encourage action, raise awareness and advocate for change. He shared that the club have been invited to attend La Testa Nel Pallone in Italy at the end of the month after having won the competition last year. The annual European mental health futsal tournament promotes mental health awareness and inclusion with teams composed of players with mental health conditions and mental health advocates and professionals. It provides an opportunity for individuals with mental health conditions to engage in competitive sport and develop a sense of community and belonging.
The club will also attend the EASI (European Association for Sport and Social Integration) Cup in Holland in July. EASI focuses on the inclusion of players with mental health issues.