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Thursday, July 25, 2024

Ex-pro Footballer Clarke Carlisle Forms a Specialist Mental Health Advocacy Course With Uclan

UCLan collaborated with Clarke and his wife Carrie to create a one-of-a-kind Collaborative Health and Mind Programme (CHAMPs).

Former professional footballer Clarke Carlisle understands, from painful personal experience, just how important it is to look after your mental health.

His desire to improve the support available for those in crisis has led him and his wife Carrie to the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), to create a course that provides an academic qualification for mental health advocates – the first-of-its-kind in the country.

During his 17-year playing career, Preston-born Clarke made more than 500 appearances for nine clubs, including Blackpool and Burnley, and was the Chairman of the Professional Football Association.

But throughout his career, Clarke struggled with his mental health: he has recurrent depressive disorder and attempted suicide multiple times.

It was his own experiences that inspired him to approach UCLan colleagues for their help to develop the Collaborative Health and Mind Programme – known as CHAMPs. The course is a non-clinical, broad introduction to health and wellbeing support systems, underpinned by evidence-based theory.

Clarke explains: “Carrie and I speak to a lot of corporate companies, and what we’ve found is that although they often provide important resources for people struggling with their mental health, there’s still a stigma around accessing those resources.

“That’s where mental health first aiders and advocates come in, as they can provide an important bridge for people to feel more confident in accessing the help they need – but those first aiders are then at high risk of burning out themselves, and feeling overwhelmed.”

That’s why one of the aims of the course is to teach people in the industry that to care for others, you must also take care of yourself: putting in place the basics, like keeping up with exercise and getting enough sleep, the lack of which can all affect your ability to cope with certain situations.

Clarke adds: “We wanted to build a course that really got under the skin of what it means to be a mental health advocate. It’s not just about supporting the person who needs help; it’s also about understanding how to protect your own mental health as an advocate. Essentially, the course supports the supporter as well; it will give them the skills to identify the important boundaries between their professional day job and their role as an advocate, and help them understand when to draw on external support. After all, empty vessels have nothing to give.”

The course is built around practical application, and the qualification could be applied to modern sporting, higher education, and workplace environments. Running over two weeks, split across two semesters, the course is divided into a week spent on academic theory and then a week focusing on more practical sessions. The latter involves recorded and assessed roleplays, as well as students from the University sharing their own, lived experience of accessing mental health support. And Clarke and Carrie will share their story and experiences with those on the course too.

Jennifer Deighton, Senior Lecturer with UCLan’s School of Sports and Health Science, who has developed the course, says: “When Clarke and Carrie approached the University with their vision for an academically robust mental health advocacy course, it offered me an exciting opportunity to create a unique Advance Certificate by drawing on my experiences as a mental health nurse. The Collaborative Health and Mind Programme is the only course of its kind to offer a practical module, allowing our students to develop confidence and competence through putting into practice their new skills – all within a safe and supportive environment.”

Clarke says he’s really enjoyed working with UCLan the bring the course to life: “As far as I’m aware, there’s no other course that means people can receive an academic qualification in advocacy. When I approached UCLan with the idea, I was struck by the energy and passion with which staff embraced it, and Carrie and I are just so grateful to them for putting this course together – it really is a thing of beauty!”

Clarke has one final message for anyone considering enrolling in the course: “Do it. Honestly, the importance of the role of the advocate cannot be underestimated – your actions can be hugely influential – both for good, if you understand the steps to take, and for bad, if you don’t. I know, from my own lived experience, just what a difference having the right support in place can make to someone is crisis – it can literally save lives.”

You can find out more about the course here; the first course will run in March 2023, and then three cohorts will be taken each year for courses in September, January and March.

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