Northampton Saints last week teamed up with the town’s largest mental health charity by training on site at St Andrew’s Healthcare.
Patients and staff were encouraged to come and watch the men in Black, Green and Gold in their preparations to face Barbarian FC, a match which saw Saints beat the famous invitational side 45-39 at cinch Stadium at Franklin’s Gardens.
Located across three sites in Northampton, Essex and Birmingham, St Andrew’s provides specialist healthcare for some of the most clinically complex patients in the mental health system – people who could not, in many cases, be treated elsewhere.
The visit coincided with the last week of Movember, an annual event which sees men growing moustaches in November to educate others about various issues such as prostate/testicular cancer and mental health, with a number of Saints also sporting facial hair to raise awareness for the campaign.
“It was great training on a different site – having so many people watching always gives the group some extra energy, and we really enjoyed the meet and greet afterwards with some of the patients here,” said Saints’ Director of Rugby, Phil Dowson.
“It’s particularly important for us to connect with the local community, and St Andrew’s Healthcare do some fantastic work in Northampton.”Phil Dowson, Director of Rugby
“They’re working hard to remove any stigma or taboo associated with mental health. It’s really important that we raise awareness, and encourage people to be more open about how they are feeling.
“A lot of our players, younger guys especially, come into our environment and it’s their first job, or first time moving away from home. Then, as you progress as an athlete there are lots of different pressures on you as well, and it’s important to find your identity within the group.
“We feel like we have the right structure in place to support our players and staff, but there’s always more to do in that space and it’s really positive to get people talking about their mental health.”
The wellbeing of players and staff is prioritised by Dowson and his team of coaches, with Saints employing a sports psychologist as well as the Club’s chaplain for anyone to talk to when they feel they need extra support. An employee-led wellbeing group has also been set up at the Club this season, with four staff members now fully qualified as Mental Health First Aiders with St John Ambulance.
St Andrews’ patients met Northampton’s squad after the training session and had the opportunity to get their photos taken with their favourite players.
Stuart, a patient and keen rugby fan, said: “I’m from South Africa where rugby is a big deal, so I was hugely excited to come down and watch the team train. It’s been the highlight of my year to meet them all.
“I’m really pleased that Saints are helping to raise awareness of mental health because it’s not something people should be embarrassed about.”Stuart, St Andrew’s Healthcare patient
“What an honour it was to watch the team train,” added Tom Bodkin, Sports and Exercise Therapist at St Andrew’s Healthcare. “It was a real highlight for our patients, many of whom are huge fans of the sport.
“It’s not every day that professional sports stars train right in front of you, and I would like to thank Saints for accepting our invitation and helping to inspire our patients into getting active.
“Many of us know that exercise can play a huge part in improving our mental health, but it’s sometimes extremely hard to start. Seeing the boys on the pitch has really resonated with some, who have already asked me about whether they could start some rugby sessions.
“As a society, we’ve come a long way in educating people about mental health conditions, but we still have some way to go. We’re enormously grateful that this training session is helping to shine the light on mental health among men, and telling them that it’s ok to not be ok.”