Chloe Lawson knows first-hand that getting involved with sport can change your life – and is now helping to raise awareness among other young people across Scotland.
The 18-year-old from Glasgow is a driving force behind the Wellbeing Ambassadors project, in which 20 volunteers explain to their peers how physical activity can support their mental health and help them become more resilient.
Built around the Shell Twilight initiative, the inclusive project has reached more than 2,300 people in 16 communities around Scotland thanks to the 65 workshops delivered by Chloe and her fellow ambassadors.
Chloe is in no doubt that highlighting the power of sport to support mental health has been the perfect way to get their message across.
She said: “A lot of young people tell us they don’t want to open up about mental health because they’re scared of being judged. But when they see other young people like us talking about the same things, it really hits home and has a kind of ripple effect.
“Linking sport with the mental health workshops works really well. I remember at one school where the pupils came in dragging their bags, clearly not wanting to be there. We began some games and soon they were laughing, smiling and talking. They were just so happy to be interacting and expressing their feelings, even if they didn’t realise it.
“The team feeling you get from sport is a huge lift. Suddenly you feel supported, and many of the young people I meet don’t get that, whether it’s at home or at school.
"Yet we know that they really engage with what we’re doing, which is a brilliant feeling.”
Chloe added: “Mental health and sport are definitely linked. If someone is depressed and their life is spiralling out of control they might think there’s no way out of it, but we work really hard to try to show them that there is hope.
“The whole point has been to get rid of the stigma of mental health, and erase the perception that those who struggle are weak and not strong enough.”
The project is a partnership between Scottish Sport Futures (SSF) and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) and received investment via the Changing Lives through Sport and Physical Activity Fund.
Chloe believes that being involved with SSF and becoming a Wellbeing Ambassador has helped with her own self-esteem and mental health too.
She said: “I was about 13 went I went to an Active East session with a friend. At the time I was struggling with my mental health, didn’t really have any friends and didn’t enjoy school. Yet as soon as I walked in, I thought, ‘I’ve finally found something I want to be a part of’.”
Chloe threw herself enthusiastically into volunteering, which culminated in becoming a Wellbeing Ambassador and developing mental health workshops at a residential weekend at sportscotland national training centre Inverclyde.
She said: “I was hooked on the whole idea of young people delivering to other young people, which is something that I’ve always felt passionate about. During the weekend we developed the four main workshops that we still have today, which I think is one of the really important principles – it’s by young people for young people.
“Since then I’ve grown, become more confident and can manage my own mental health better.
"The SAMH training helped us pass tips to young people, but it helped us too. We’re constantly learning and, in a way, I’m practising what I preach.
“I’ve also got a lot more friends now. We have daily Zoom meetings and lots of catch-ups and we’re a lot more open about discussing our feelings – there’s never any awkwardness.”
Chloe’s tireless enthusiasm and passion in supporting wellbeing and resilience in communities through physical activity and sport has resulted in a series of awards.
Having already enjoyed recognition at sportscotland’s Coaching, Volunteering and Officiating (COV) Awards and the Year of Young People Awards in 2018, she was named in February 2020 as SSF Ambassador of the Year.
Chloe added: “We’ve encouraged young people to take part, talk about how they feel and how they’re managing. We can see them laughing and interacting, which is great. A smile can change someone’s day, so if we’re getting young people everywhere smiling, it’s got to be good.”
Find out more
Discover more about Wellbeing Ambassadors at the Scottish Sport Futures website
Learn more about mental health and wellbeing at the SAMH website
Sport For Life: summary of progress is sportscotland's annual review for 2019-20.