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“It’s Recovery United for Me”: Promises and Pitfalls of Football as Part of Mental Health Recovery

Jonathan Magee, Ramón Spaaij, and Ruth Jeanes

This paper builds on the concept of mental health recovery to critically examine three football projects in the United Kingdom and their effects on the recovery process. Drawing on qualitative research on the lived experiences of mental health clients and service providers across the three projects, we explore the role of football in relation to three components of recovery: engagement, stigma, and social isolation. The findings indicate how the projects facilitated increased client engagement, peer supports, and the transformation of self-stigma. The perception of football as an alternative setting away from the clinical environment was an important factor in this regard. Yet, the results also reveal major limitations, including the narrow, individualistic conceptualization of both recovery and stigma within the projects, the reliance on a biomedical model of mental illness, and the potentially adverse consequences of using football in mental health interventions.