Since its launch in 2017, Offload has made a positive difference to the mental wellbeing of over 30,000 people and been hailed as an example of best practice for community mental health programmes.

Offload sessions are delivered by former and current professional Rugby League players with lived experience of low level mental health conditions. This makes the programme content more relatable to men.

Originally devised as a programme aimed at men, Offload has evolved into a hugely successful programme that is delivering proven benefits to participants in both the worlds of sport and business.

A leading academic study concluded that Rugby League Cares’s health programme Offload is “a model of best practice” for engaging with men on issues around mental wellbeing.

Researchers at Edge Hill University also found that Offload is achieving dramatic success in both changing and saving the lives of the participants and providing those involved with a safe space to discuss mental health.

The research conducted by Professor Andy Smith, Dr David Haycock and Rachel Wilcock has been published in the international journal, Mental Health and Physical Activity, and is currently free to access online

They concluded that Offload is an example of best practice for sport-based community mental health programmes for men, and much can be learned from how it has been designed and run.

Sport and Physical Activity Professor Andy Smith said: “There has been a rapid growth in community sport and mental health programmes for men, but the key design characteristics of these programmes, and the roles played by delivery staff in their conception and development, have not yet been systematically or widely studied. Our research on the Offload programme begins to rectify this.

“Among other things, our analysis showed that men clearly preferred a non-clinical approach to discussing their mental health, often in less stigmatising environments like professional sports stadia, and using sporting analogies to support self-care.

“Having the sessions led by former professional sports people working alongside mental health and community sport experts made it a safe space and allowed participants to express themselves fully. This, in turn, provided great outcomes for the men involved.”

At the heart of Offload was a desire by RL Cares to base the programme on men’s needs and preferences, supported by academic research and evidence from Edge Hill. This research informed the creation of effective weekly sessions that engaged and built trust with the participants and shaped the monitoring and evaluation of Offload.

In focus groups held as part of the wider evaluation, the participants were extremely positive with the amount of support and trust provided by the presenters and the relatability of their experience to those of men. The men also felt that Offload gave their lives structure, provided ownership over their mental health and prevented isolation by helping them to engage with others whether in-person or via social media.

One participant said: “I can honestly say Offload saved my life. That night that I went to Offload for the very first time, I was planning to do it [attempt to take my own life] again, so I can’t sing its praises enough to be honest. I wouldn’t be here without it.”

Another added: “Some of them [the presenters] are people I’ve admired because I am a Rugby League fan. When I’ve seen what they’ve been through, it made it easier for me to offload my problems in front of a few people, which I wouldn’t have done before.”

“If you are interested in bringing Offload to your workplace to support your staff please contact our Partnerships Manager Nav Uppal for more information.”