This week is Mental Health Awareness week in the UK and once again sports research company Syngenta have produced a fine piece of work highlighting the mental – as well as physical – benefits that playing golf can bring.
With one in six adults in the UK suffering from the more common mental health issues of depression and anxiety, this is a massive health burden which needs resolution. Physical activity is the strongest, most natural antidote, and golf’s unique contribution is that it offers mental stimulation as well as its playing environment in nature. While golf can be an individual sport, it is mostly social and the club environment can link people up to play together and forge new contacts and potential friendships.
The well presented Syngenta study highlights the impact of being in the open air and sunshine on a person’s well being. Interracting with nature can be one of the easiest ways to restore and support good mental health. Sedentary living has been called the new smoking – for its damaging impact on our health.
One of the case studies in the report is a teenager who has experienced depression. It is interesting the link that this young man makes between how he has felt and the overuse of technology and social media. The expert psychologist who provides commentary in the report comments that digital media can lead to multitasking which generates stress and negative emotions and ends up lowering productivity. She says that over use of social media not only leads to social isolation – with peoples heads being locked into a virtual, rather than the real, world – and this is leading to a loneliness epidemic.
Getting in to golf’s green spaces has a positive impact on human psychology and physiology. You manage stress better when you are around green space, the parasympathetic nervous system changes and mood, strategic thinking and creativity improve. Is it any wonder that golf has been used for years as the place business people use to discuss deals, its very sensible!
Being around a green environment will relieve depression and anxiety and anger and improve mental fatigue. Being outdoors in the natural light, particularly in winter, will lift mood immediately. Golf has a unique position as a sport too as it is a series of mental challenges to be solved and involves actively using the brain to think strategically.
The teenager in the report says “golf gives me an excuse to put down technology and forget about it. I need that time away from it”.
There are compelling arguments in this report but I had a slight nagging uneasiness,when I read it. And that is selling golf as a social sport. This is something where everyone who loves golf needs to do better, in creating a welcoming environment. Because what vulnerable people do not want is to feel rejected or be told “I know your circumstances and you have no business being here amongst us, your social superiors”.
It is time that people who demonstrate that kind of attitude were told to leave golf, to move on to something else, because there are people out there who need golf and they need it to be populated by people who are warm, open and friendly and most of all non-judgmental.