It’s World Mental Health Day, a chance to increase awareness of mental health, with the aim of putting it on a par with physical health and challenging long-held stigmas.

At Empire Fighting Chance mental health is at the core of all our work, every day of the year.

Throughout our 16-year history, we’ve seen the devastating effect that abuse, neglect and other traumatic experiences can have on young people. We’ve also seen the destructive impact that poor mental health has on young lives, including gang crime, school exclusion, self-harm, and the breakdown of close relationships.  

Research shows that with increased deprivation comes an increased risk of trauma and exposure to violence for young people. The cost-of-living crisis facing our country will only deepen the crisis in youth mental health services, as poverty increases and support services experience funding shortages.

Empire Fighting Chance is committed to tackling these crises by breaking the cycle of trauma, poor mental health, and youth violence.

In the communities in which we work, poor mental health is often considered a weakness and not talked about. Clinic-based talking therapy can be intimidating and prevent young people from dropping their guard. Few of the young people we work with want to sit in a room with somebody they barely know and start talking about the problems that they face.

Our pioneering 12-week Boxing Therapy programme was developed to knock down the barriers that young people can face in accessing mental health support. It sees a trained therapist seamlessly weave Acceptance and Commitment Therapy into a boxing session in a gym. Rather than access a mental health service, young people participate in sport, and accept support naturally. They learn to explore their emotions, reduce negative behaviours, and make positive changes in their lives.

Once the 12-week programme ends, we offer the young people weekly group sessions with a therapist, which are a pathway to help them transition into our main junior sessions.

One young person who completed our Boxing Therapy programme said, “It’s been really fun and I’m going to miss it. It makes me feel like I have freedom to talk about things. I like having the space to chill out and it calms me down. It’s been helpful talking about feelings more – I like that I can talk about what is going on in my life. I feel more confident standing up for myself.”

Another young person said, “I felt safe at Empire Fighting Chance. It was also a place to let all my frustration and anger out. I pushed myself more than I have done before in other areas of my life and always left the gym feeling happier.

They continued, “Before, I found it hard to connect with people and to develop good relationships with adults, which Empire Fighting Chance changed. It has helped me to not get into fights and I’m sad it is ending. I feel a lot more confident, and I have started talking to my mum more because of it.”

A parent had this to say about their child’s recent experience of Boxing Therapy: “He is in a much happier place than before he started. He has gained confidence and is looking forward to going back to school and making a positive start to the new year. He now makes more of an effort with family and will get involved in conversations, which is really nice.”

These are just some of the successes we’ve had with our innovative and accessible therapy programme. Our Impact Report explores our outcomes in more detail – you can read it here.

World Mental Health Day is a reminder that improving mental health should be at the heart of early interventions to improve young lives – and this is everyone’s fight.

Photo used for illustration purposes and not linked to stories.