Community Coach Waqas Khan talks Mental

During Mental Health Awareness Week, the Warwickshire County Board caught up with Waqas Khan. Waqas is one of our Community Coaches and he also works as a Mental Health Practitioner for the NHS in Birmingham. In this interview, Waqas discusses:

  • His current work in Mental Health with young people in Birmingham.
  • How his work with Chance to Shine was instrumental in him choosing his career path in mental health.
  • The opportunities he sees for cricket to play a part in opening up the conversation about mental health in our communities.

“I felt as a Chance to Shine coach that I could be an ear for the young people coming through the door – someone who would listen to them, make them feel important and give them a platform to talk about their concerns.”

Waqas’ role in Mental Health Services

Waqas works specifically in Mental Health Services for young people aged 0-25, as part of the Birmingham and Women’s Hospital Trust. For most of the time in his current role, Waqas is working with individuals who have been referred to the service. “I see a lot of young people with low mood, anxiety and depression – some of them very young. After their initial consultation screening, I will recommend interventions. I am not a doctor, but I am able to provide support and intervention.”

Waqas also discusses his wider work in prevention. “On a wider level, my role also includes prevention work. I have delivered a number of workshops in Birmingham secondary schools, both for pupils and their parents. For the pupils, the workshops focus on areas such as self-esteem, low mood, self-care, resilience, hygiene and general mental and physical wellbeing.”

“In the workshops for parents, my focus is primarily on Mental Health Awareness. As well as helping parents to spot signs of mental illness, I am also passionate about removing the stigma around mental health. Research suggests the stigma around mental health prevents 40% of those with anxiety from getting the right help. For many people, mental health is a taboo subject and there is no understanding or awareness about it. As a result, young people can feel unsupported by the people around them. I hope these workshops remove some of those barriers that exist around talking openly about mental health.”

Dovetailing with Chance to Shine’s Life Skills Programme

Waqas has been able to dovetail together his two occupations as a mental health practitioner and WCB Chance to Shine cricket coach. “Sport gives a different perspective on mental health,” explains Waqas. “It’s a perspective a lot of young people really engage with. I have recently, for example, delivered four mental health workshops for 10/11 year olds at Colmore Junior School, as part of their Chance to Shine sessions. We covered subjects like self-esteem, sleep, healthy eating and hygiene. It’s a creative and innovative approach which the children enjoyed more than they would have done sitting in a classroom. We worked alongside the teachers, using the excellent Life Skills and Mental Health materials from Chance to Shine, and were able to give the teachers lesson plans for future use.”

Waqas has also worked alongside his fellow WCB Chance to Shine coaches to deliver similar workshops for participants at Chance to Shine school holiday festivals recently in Birmingham. During the intervals between their games, small groups of participants attended workshops where they discussed mental and physical wellbeing, as well as associated subjects such as online safety.

The Impact of Chance to Shine on Waqas’s Career Path

Waqas has been a WCB Chance to Shine Community Coach for seven years. He describes his involvement with Chance to Shine as having been ‘instrumental’ in directing him towards his career in Mental Health Services.

“When participants arrived for a session, I could see by their body language and their mood that they didn’t feel good about themselves. We would have a catch up as a group before each session to discuss how they were feeling. I felt as a Chance to Shine coach that I could be an ear for the young people coming through the door – someone who would listen to them, make them feel important and give them a platform to talk about their concerns. The participants told me this helped them feel safe and secure at Chance to Shine sessions.”

This experience as a Chance to Shine coach sparked Waqas’s interest in mental health. He then joined Starbank Academy in Birmingham in a pastoral role for four years. “I loved combining my pastoral duties and being a cricket coach. I was very pleased to have worked with Mina Zahoor at WCB to set up the Glow in the Dark girls’ cricket festival. This provided lots of girls with the opportunity to experience playing and enjoying cricket for the first time. It was great to be part of a community in a school and hopefully that will be something I come back to later in my career.”

Opportunities for Cricket to Open Up the Conversation about Mental Health

Waqas is passionate about the role cricket can play in opening up the conversation about mental health, whether that is in a community setting, a school or a county age group set up. “It has to start at the grass roots level, in places where young people and their parents come together. Cricket is an ideal place to start that conversation, whether it is workshops for children or sessions for parents (while their children are training) to improve mental health awareness.”

Waqas also feels the professional game has a role to play. “In the wider game, we have thousands of people flooding through the gates at stadiums like Edgbaston for big cricket matches. It would be an ideal time and place to have a pop up stall manned by mental health professionals who could signpost people in the right direction to get more support. Those five minute conversations can go a long way towards helping people get the right support and would be more accessible to many than the traditional routes.”

Summary and Further Information

Waqas has been an incredibly positive force in the Birmingham cricket community through his work in raising mental health awareness. He has been well supported by colleagues at the WCB and in the Community Coaching team, who he describes as ‘supportive and receptive’. Whilst happy to contribute to Mental Health Awareness Week, Waqas is keen to point out he would ideally like the conversation about mental health to continue all year round. With his excellent work in schools and community settings, Waqas is helping that happen.

For more information about support for Mental Health please click the following links

Your new Childline website | Childline

Samaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listenSamaritans | Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy | Here to listen

Pause Birmingham | The Children’s Society (childrenssociety.org.uk)

Home – Kooth

This article was written by Rachael Wong and has been republished with the kind permission of Warwickshire Cricket Board. Find the original article here.

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