Optimising the benefit of football interventions to promote the mental health of diverse groups of men

Physical activity interventions are an important adjunct therapy for people with severe to moderate and/or enduring mental health problems. Football is particularly popular for men in this group. Several interventions have emerged over the past decade and there is a need to clearly articulate how they are intended to work, for whom and in what circumstances. 

Aims: To develop a theory-driven framework for a football intervention for men with severe, moderate and/or enduring mental health problems using a participatory realist approach. 

Method: A participatory literature review on playing football as a means of promoting mental health recovery with a realist synthesis. It included the accounts and input of 12 mental health service users and the contributions of other stakeholders including football coaches and occupational therapists. 

Results: Fourteen papers were included in the review. Analysis revealed that interventional mechanisms were social connectedness, identity security, normalising experiences and positive affectivity. These supported mental health recovery. 

Outcomes: were moderated by social stigma and several interventional factors such as over-competitiveness. 

Conclusions: The Context Mechanism Outcome configuration framework for these interventions map well onto social models of mental health recovery and provide insight into how they work. This now requires testing.