Sport protects mental health of children who experience trauma

Study finds abused or neglected children who play sports are less likely to develop mental illness

Taking part in sport protects children who are abused or neglected from developing mental health problems in later life, according to a major public health study.

People who had adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) but regularly played sports as children were less likely to have a mental illness as an adult, the study found. People who had traumatic childhoods were also more likely to be mentally healthy if they took part in sport as adults.

The study confirmed a strong link between ACEs, which include sexual and physical abuse, parental separation and living with domestic violence, and mental illness as an adult.

It said people who had four or more ACEs were four times more likely to be receiving treatment for current mental illnesses and 10 times more likely to have self-harmed or felt suicidal than those who had experienced none.

The study from Public Health Wales (PHW) and Bangor University looked at what could help people with troubled upbringings. Published on Thursday, the report said: “Of childhood activities measured, only regular participation in sports showed a protective effect against mental illness.

“Among those with four or more ACEs, the adjusted proportion reporting current mental illness fell from 25% of those who did not regularly participate in childhood sports to 19% in those who did.”

The report urged caution: “It is not possible from this survey to explore whether participation in sports builds resilience in children or whether children with greater resilience are more attracted to sports.”

But it added: “The relationships found here suggest increased sports participation should be further explored as a means of developing resilience and protecting mental health.”

The report found that adults who were members of clubs and community groups were also more likely to be mentally well. It found that playing sport also helped adults, with the proportion of people being treated for a mental illness if they played sport almost half that of those who did not.

It said: “There are associations between regular adult participation in sports and current mental illness. While much attention has been paid to the cardiovascular and weight reduction potential of sports participation, its impact of friendship opportunities, benefits to mental health, access to role models and the other aspects of resilience that engagement in sports facilitates needs to be factored into its benefits.”

A previous report from PHW and Bangor University revealed that children who had ACEs were more likely to become physically ill as adults.

Children with four or more ACEs were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with a chronic disease in later life than those who had experienced none, the report said.

They are four times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, three times more likely to develop heart disease and three times more likely to develop respiratory disease.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Tens of thousands of children in England rejected for mental health treatment
Even with evidence of abuse or self-harm many children are turned away, report finds

Richard Adams Education editor

07, Oct, 2018 @7:34 AM

Article image
Schools cutting mental health services to plug funding gaps, warn MPs
Services to support children’s wellbeing are ‘first thing to go’ when budgets are under pressure, parliamentary inquiry hears

Alice Ross

01, May, 2017 @11:01 PM

Article image
Children in mental health crisis face being locked up by police
Norfolk, Hampshire and Devon have no dedicated space for children who are a danger to themselves or others

Juliette Jowit

10, Nov, 2014 @7:00 AM

Article image
A safe space: NHS unit on frontline of child mental health crisis
Although the Coborn in east London works at the ‘extreme end’ of mental health, its services are increasingly in demand

Denis Campbell Health policy editor

03, Jul, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Child mental health services will not meet demand, NAO warns
Spending watchdog says even promised £1.4bn extra would leave ‘significant unmet need’

Rajeev Syal

09, Oct, 2018 @12:33 PM

Article image
Vulnerable children continue to be left without adequate mental health support | @guardianletters
Letters: I agree that a seamless range of services should be on offer. But there is no need for ‘inquiries, reviews and a new taskforce’

18, Aug, 2014 @7:06 PM

Article image
Children to be offered talking therapies in mental health review

Mental health strategy to pledge £400m to extend therapies to adults across England and help prevent children developing illnesses

David Brindle

01, Feb, 2011 @3:52 PM

Article image
‘Sailor’s death was avoidable’: how NHS mental health system is failing children
Sailor identified as non-binary and was waiting for official assessment before they took their life

Sarah Marsh

03, Feb, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Five a day: UK children with healthy diet have best mental health
Study prompts experts to call for nutrition to be included in public health strategies

Andrew Gregory

27, Sep, 2021 @10:30 PM

Article image
Risks to children 'the biggest social justice challenge of our time'
Children’s commissioner seeks more help for young people in vulnerable family situations

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

03, Jul, 2018 @11:01 PM