Kicking Out Mental Health Stigma

The stigma attached to those who suffer Mental Health problems is unquestionable. But now we see new initiatives that are trying to eradicate such an attachment. It comes from an unlikely source and for many a popular one too.

Football, whether it be playing or watching, has been shown to affect those who suffer from mental health problems. In a recent footballstudy it was revealed that one in four fans believed that football was one of the most important things in their lives.

With such a bearing on their lives it is no surprise that charities have turned to football as a means of tackling the stigma of mental illness.

The Mental Health Foundation has found that football is a “cathartic process which helps people to feel socially included.” It not only helps in forming an identity and collective spirit but it also helps create a sense of perspective.

For young men in particular, where the most common cause of death for under 35 year olds is suicide, it can provide the “opportunity to externalise tension and emotion which is important in maintaining health.”

This evidence has prompted the FA to turn to new projects which aims to improve those who may suffer. The FA highlights the high profile case with Robert Enke as a particular example. Enke was a German Internationalist goalkeeper who took his own life after suffering with depression for 6 years. It is thought that the death of his daughter Lara was the breaking point for the highly thought of goalkeeper.

The recent tragedy involving Gary Speed has also brought to attention the need for new measures to at least raise awareness if not deal with the problem itself. 10% of the population suffer from depression at one stage in their lifetime, one in 4 suffer problems in any one year. Tony Adams, a former England internationalist believes that

“Mental health problems can affect anyone- footballers too. Its okay to talk about mental health.”

Jason Kelvin is a success story in how football can save someones life. He is the project lead in Arsenals “Imagine your goals” project and he believes that football gave him a lifeline. Jason had been diagnosed with chronic depression since a teenager and he explains that

“You’d have thought I had everything: a job, money, mates. I was a bit of a jack the lad, or at least that’s what I projected to the world.”

Jason then suffered a mental breakdown. This manifested itself “gradually” until he became a “prisoner in his own home.”

But after visiting a counsellor his life took a dramatic change:

“I was encouraged to join a football project for men with mental health problems. At first I was a bit nervous about going – I didn’t want to be around a bunch of ‘nutcases’. But in those two-hour football sessions I was able to be myself for the first time. I didn’t have to pretend to be OK. I could just be me. I was proud to admit ‘I’m Jason and I have a mental health problem.’ On the pitch I could lose my temper and shout and scream – it was good for letting go some of the tension”

Jason has since become an ambassador and has told of his experience and he hopes to change the perception of mental illness. Jason Kelvin and his “Imagine Your Goals” project is one of many projects that are now realising the potential and power of football. Another project that has seen the importance of football is the NaeDrama suicide prevention project. They have made a wonderfully insightful film about the effects of mental health difficulties.

In their film “It’s OK To Ask” young people talk openly about their particular problems. 2 people commit suicide in Scotland each day. In their film which you can see on youtube, one man talks about the positive impact football can have:

“It’s about getting yourself out the house and interacting with people. It can be great for relieving stress which if you don’t do anything about, can build up. There’s plenty of people in the same position and it’s not uncommon. People need to know that there are trained workers out there that you can speak to to help get it off your chest.”

Hopefully we can see the effects of such projects in years to come and realise that the stigma of mental health has no place in society.

To watch the NaeDrama film “It’s OK to Ask” you can visit youtube on this following link

Story by David

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