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Hitz Backs Mental Health Programme

by Hamish Dufton @efchamishdufton

Everton midfielder Thomas Hitzlsperger visited Garston Lifestyles Leisure Centre earlier this week to meet participants who have benefited from a mental health programme run by the Blues.

The German international met with a group of men who access the award-winning mental health programme Imagine Your Goals, which is run by Everton in the Community and Mersey Care NHS Trust.

At the event Hitzlsperger took part in a question and answer session with the participants, discussing in particular the mental health pressures he has experienced in professional sport, before taking part in a team-building exercise often used to develop confidence and communications skills.

Speaking about his visit, Thomas told evertonfc.com: “I have really enjoyed meeting the players today. Mental health is really important and it is great to see Everton running a scheme which helps people to talk through their problems and also keep fit. When you feel fit, it can help you feel better, so it’s just great these guys have this opportunity.”

One in four people in the UK will suffer a mental health issue at some stage in their lives and often suffer in silence.

Everton in the Community in partnership with mental health service provider Mersey Care NHS Trust developed an exercise programme called ‘Imagine Your Goals' in 2007, which has since benefited hundreds of people across Merseyside.

The programme offers local people who are living with mental health issues an opportunity to talk about their problems and seek help and support in a familiar environment. There have been many successes from the programme, including players who have got fitter, feel better, have made friends and gone on to do coaching qualifications, volunteering and enter employment.

In 2008, NHS partner Mersey Care NHS Trust jointly funded an initial three-year programme with the Premier League and PFA Community Fund, enabling Everton to become the first Premier League club in the country to appoint a full-time mental health football co-ordinator.

Working with Mersey Care NHS staff has enabled Everton to build on its coaching workshops and six weekly sessions are now provided at sites across Merseyside. It also led to the creation of Merseyside's first mental health football league and the programme is now accessed by around 150 players each week. Mersey Care NHS Trust continues to work with Everton in the Community and has funded the scheme for a further two years to enable even more local people to access the programme.

Imagine Your Goals has been adopted by other Premier League clubs up and down the country and has received several prestigious awards including the 2010 Sports Industry Award for ‘Best Community Programme', 2010 North West Football Award for ‘Best Community Scheme of the Year' and the 2010 Tony Adams Award for ‘Positive Mental Health'.

Mersey Care's project manager Matty Byrne said: “Merseyside leads the way with its progressive approach to developing creative ways to help people with mental health issues, thanks to strong cultural partnerships such as this one between Everton in the Community and Mersey Care.”

This successful partnership has led to a number of exciting new projects promoting good mental health and wellbeing across Merseyside, including a Healthy Blues exercise project for the over-40s, a dementia pilot programme, employment courses and life skills’ cookery lessons.

For more information about Imagine Your Goals, contact Everton in the Community on 0151 530 5253 or visit evertonfc.com/community.

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