Educating young people about mental health through sport

Tackling Awareness of Mental Health Issues (TAMHI) was set up in 2011 by Joe Donnelly and Stephen McLaughlin in memory of their close friend, Thomas "Tammy Tucker" McLaughlin, who tragically took his own life in 2009.

In response to the growing number of young people suffering from mental health problems, the charity has developed a unique model of engagement, which taps into the central role of local community sport clubs in the lives of young people, to promote positive mental health.

Recognising some of the commonly held misconceptions about mental health and the reluctance of many young people to seek support, TAMHI takes a very proactive approach. Through its Change Makers programme which is funded by Sported, it provides bespoke resources and training to local community sport clubs to enable them to incorporate educational sessions about mental health into their core sporting programmes.

In reaching out directly to young people in their own communities, utilising trusted coaches to deliver the message and educating sport clubs about spotting early signs of emotional difficulty and creating environments where people are comfortable asking for help, Joe Donnelly hopes to reduce the number of suicides and give young people vital support at vulnerable times in their lives.


Sported started working with Joe in 2012 when the idea of TAMHI was still in its infancy and he was piloting his project - voluntarily in his spare time - with two local sport clubs.

Immediately recognising the power and potential impact of Joe’s idea, not to mention his ambition, passion and drive, Brenda Kelly, Sported’s Northern Ireland Manager, paired him with Sported volunteer mentor, Frank McGlone, to provide a more structured and strategic approach to the organisation’s development.

Having had no prior experience setting up a charitable organisation, Frank’s first task was to help Joe refine his vision for TAMHI and get him thinking more strategically about the organisation’s long-term goals. As Joe explains:

When I set up with the support of Sported I had a big vision of success and clear direction of where I wanted to take the project, but I needed to be dragged back down to earth! Both Frank and Brenda did that for me.  They reined me in, gave me direction and outlined the steps I had to work towards and tick off in order for me to achieve my vision and goals.

With Frank’s support a strategic business plan for TAMHI was developed, which helped attract the investment needed for Joe to take a career break and devote his full-time to the organisation.

The support Sported has given TAMHI through its volunteer mentoring service has been invaluable to both the growth of the charity and Joe’s own personal development, as he explains,

“Thanks to my mentor Frank, I have acquired so much knowledge about what I could do and what I could achieve short-term, medium-term and long-term. He taught me how to plan projects, how to think about what I wanted from them, got me asking the questions in relation to why I am doing this in the first place. He challenged me and that challenge gave me food for thought about refining my vision and plan, from something that was aspirational to something achievable and meaningful.”

As well helping Joe to become more structured and strategic, Brenda and Frank have also opened the doors to a wider network of people involved in the mental health and Sport for Development sectors in Northern Ireland, including organisations such as Lifeline, which has since gone on to offer its support to TAMHI.

With a strategic business plan and networks in place, Sported followed up its mentor support with a large grant to fund TAMHI’s flagship ‘Change Makers’ programme in the New Lodge area of North Belfast. As part of the programme TAMHI is providing key sporting clubs in the area with bespoke resources and training in order for them to deliver and promote positive mental health activities. In addition to Sported’s funding, Joe and Frank have been able to attract investment in the region of £35,000 to fund the charity’s expansion.

Sported remains closely involved in TAMHI’s on-going development, with the group now benefitting from the charity’s partnership with Inspiring Impact Northern Ireland - a programme which helps Sported members better understand the importance and practicalities of impact practice.