Ex-footballer for PNE, Blackpool and Burnley, Clarke Carlisle, develops specialist mental health advocacy course with UCLan
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Preston born Clarke Carlisle says he 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 UCLan, to create a course that provides an academic qualification for mental health advocates, the first-of-its-kind in the country.
During his career, Clarke made over 500 appearances for nine clubs, and was the Chairman of the Professional Football Association, but he also struggled with his mental health, having recurrent depressive disorder and attempted suicide multiple times.
His experiences inspired him to approach UCLan for their help to develop the Collaborative Health and Mind Programme (CHAMPs), a non-clinical, broad introduction to health and wellbeing support systems, underpinned by evidence-based theory.
Clarke, a former Balshaws High School pupil, 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.
“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.”
Running over two weeks, split across two semesters, the course is divided into an academic theory week and a week focusing on practical sessions, including recorded roleplays, as well as students, Clarke and Carrie sharing their own experiences. The qualification could be applied to modern sporting, higher education, and workplace environments.
Jennifer Deighton, Senior Lecturer with UCLan’s School of Sports and Health Science, who developed the course, said: “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. CHAMPs 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 added: “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.”