The links between physical activity* and physical well-being are well established and widely known, but physical activity, including sport, has also been shown to contribute in significant ways to mental health and psychosocial well-being.
People living in situations of forced displacement are at high risk of experiencing poor mental health. Displaced individuals can be exposed to stressful and traumatic events before departure, during transit and after their arrival in a new host community, and may struggle to integrate within a new social context, as a 2018 World Health Organization policy brief described.
Sport and physical activity can promote positive mental health and reduce symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sport can also support the development of socio-emotional skills, promote social connection, strengthen support networks, and foster a sense of belonging and community. For populations affected by crisis and displacement, sport can provide a positive and safe space for releasing tension, promoting healing, and building resilience.
Despite the evidence base, sport remains an under-utilised strategy for protecting and promoting mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) outcomes amongst displaced populations. In displacement contexts, there remains a lack of opportunities for sport and MHPSS professionals to come together as part of a holistic approach to supporting the needs of displaced populations.
To maximise their positive contribution, it is crucial to implement sport and physical activity interventions in safe, trauma-informed ways. Displacement experiences can have long-term consequences on mental health, learning, coping, and relationships, particularly among young people. Failing to consider these experiences can lead to negative outcomes. Therefore, it is essential to ensure that sport and physical activity initiatives are sensitive to these factors and tailored to the specific needs, desires and hopes of displaced individuals.
*Physical activity refers to any bodily movement and includes sport and exercise
Top banner image by arindambanerjee (istockphoto.com) showing young men playing football in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.