According to the National Mental Health Survey of India, around 9.8 million adolescents between the ages of 13 and 17 years require active intervention for depression, substance dependence, anxiety and learning disorders. The general lack of awareness regarding mental health problems is apparent from the fact that the central government has allocated only 1.3% of the total budget for health to mental health facilities.
Professional support (psychiatrists, counselors, psychologists and other personnel) for mental health is inadequate in relation to the situation at hand, thus making psychological help expensive and unfeasible. Even when economic resources are not a problem, severe social stigma attached with seeking help for mental health issues is a great impediment.
There is a crippling cultural conditioning against clinical treatment of psychological problem. Thus, leading the majority of the Indian youth to either hide or ignore their mental problems. In the face of such social and economic situation, one viable solution to this dire problem is to inculcate sports into the lifestyle of youth. Dedicating short durations of time to physical activity has been shown to have a strong and positive influence on mental well-being and has proven to be effective in the cases of anxiety related and behavioural disorders.
Furthermore, physical activity is inexpensive and requires lesser resources. Not only is regular physical activity proven to reduce lashes of aggression it also encourages discipline, teamwork, diligence and respect towards peers. In addition to this, sport also helps in the improvement of self-esteem and self-confidence, the lack of which is a major factor behind behavioural and anxiety related issues.
However, while there has been a steady increase in organisations that are working towards better mental healthcare, the potential of sports as a means of improving mental health remains relatively unexplored.
Pro Sport Development (PSD), an award winning social enterprise has done some path breaking work promoting sports at the grassroots in India. Over the years, PSD has had a positive impact on more than 9,200 children (51% of whom are females), by improving their physical and mental health and well-being through sports.
Swetashree Sethi, a 13-year-old girl who is enrolled in PSD’s Community Sports Program shared her sentiments. She states “from these (game) sessions I have learned how to work in a team. I have become more active, more confident and my memory power has improved.”
Another example is that of Rudra Prasad Biswas who, after participating in PSD’s Community Sports Program in Bhubaneswar, Odisha was able to overcome his aggressive tendencies and become a better team player with a calm mind.
The most effective way of countering mental health problems through sports is to begin at the grassroots level by focusing on a more sustainable, healthy and holistic approach. Anantapur Sports Academy‘s successful grassroot programs is a good example of impact of sports on the children. An impact analysis of the sports program on the physical, emotional and social development of children involved in the program observed that the children who were part of this program were happier and confident pointing to positive mental well-being.
Thus, it is important to institute quality and age-specific physical education programs which focuses on mental health along with the development of soft skills and fundamental movement skills of the children.
The need of the hour is for both society and its institutions to accord greater importance to sports and physical activities their due relevance and importance. Having the youngest population in the world, India can either present an exemplary model of transformative leadership and development through the medium of sports or can turn out to be in a precarious position for its youth.