Spotlight on Jason El-Kaleh: City in the Communities Outreach Officer for Mental Health

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As part of Mental Health Awareness Week, City in the Community are promoting and encouraging conversation around mental health.

Following our news on CITC’s new partnership with Thrive and the NHS, we caught up with Jason El-Kaleh – Outreach Officer for Mental Health at CITC.

Jason discussed his passion for championing mental health, and his ambitions for the future; to support young people in Manchester given the growing challenges of mental health.

Jason El-Kaleh

I’ve been part of the team at City in the Community for over 3 years, initially as part of City Inspires team, working within partner schools. Our focus was to develop the skills and lives of disengaged students through alternative provision, with an emphasis on changing attitudes towards school and its opportunities.

I’ve always been interested in the importance of mental health, and its role in sport and importance to young people, and something I’d always tried to push as part of my role.

I’d completed my masters in Sport, Physical Activity and Mental Health from Edgehill University in 2017 and was really keen to put this knowledge to good use with CITC.

What really became clear last year, was that Covid-19 and lockdown was having a massively detrimental impact on our communities, perhaps with an even greater detriment to young people being affected.

I think our strategy in terms of Mental Health support provision was reacting to the situation that we saw arising all around us.

In response to community need, in November 2020 Jason’s role changed, when Jason become CITC’s first full time Community Outreach Officer with a remit that focused solely on Mental Health.

I certainly saw this first-hand from my role within Inspires, and I know my Outreach and CITC colleagues will agree how important good mental health is, and how it can impact on the expectations and outcomes of all our community participants.

We’ve always been aware of the importance and need for mental health provision, and sport certainly helps this, but the challenges of Covid brought its important to even sharper focus than ever.

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However, despite the importance of sport to mental health, the challenges of lockdown have meant fewer sessions than ever taking place, with Outreach Officers unable to spend time face to face with participants.

Our delivery and engagements have been way down way down this year, which has made my first 6 months a real challenge!

Though we’ve hosted a number of online calls and in-person sessions with participants in need of support. But it’s not easy to offer the same quality support as it is face-to-face.

There’ve also been several soccer schools that CITC have hosted this year, so I’ve been able to spend time with young people in groups here too.

However, this limited exposure to delivery and participants has enabled Jason to spend some time planning the groundwork to what comes next, as well as helping him gauge where mental health provision needs to be aimed and targeted at.

The onus for us at CITC is really to embed Mental Health provision into everything we do, and to encourage awareness and discussion around mental health across all our programs.

Whether its Inspires colleagues working in partner schools, or coaches delivering Kicks, Disability football or Female Empowerment sessions, we want all our participants to be confident with mental health conversations.

A big part of what we want to do is making sure that across CITC, we have the processes in place to ensure we are supporting our participants with their mental health and wellbeing.

Mental Health Awareness Week (10th – 16th May) has given both Jason and CITC a platform to bring this conversation to new audiences. As well as the announcement that CITC are to partner with the NHS to expand Mental Health provision to young adults and children in Manchester, as Jason identifies, there is a great deal more to follow.

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Mental Health Awareness Week is a fantastic opportunity to use the week as a tool to open conversations with participants and staff. We really want to empower people to use their voices and help to break down the barriers around talking about mental health.

As well as hosting engagement sessions, we want to use related content, advice and resources across all our channels to prompt people to normalise conversations around mental health subjects, and to challenge the stigma that people may experience when they are struggling with their own mental health.

It’s been a difficult year, and we want people to know they’re not alone in how they feel. We want our participants and colleagues to feel they can reach out to us for support, where we can signpost people either towards relevant CITC programs that can help, or to partner providers for additional support.

CITC’s partnership with the NHS and CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) is a great illustration of this. Through continuous and constant consultation, the partnership will act as a two-way referral, allowing CITC to offer participants fast-tracking through the CAMHS system to ensure support is received at the earliest opportunity.

CITC programs, events and emotional health and wellbeing curriculum will also be available for participants referred to CITC from CAMHS.

CITC’s existing mental health programme, which launched in January 2021, has been funded by ‘Cityzens Giving for Recovery’; an initiative which aims to make a positive difference in response to the COVID-19 pandemic via targeted projects near each of City Football Group’s ten clubs. 

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