Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week, an annual event which the Mental Health Foundation created over 20 years ago, providing an important opportunity for the whole of the UK to focus on achieving positive mental health.
Mental health is more important now than ever before. Over the past year we’ve each been living through a global pandemic which has touched all our lives in one way or another. The disconnect, uncertainty, change and grief has taken its toll on everybody’s mental health. Football offers a platform from which we can make a real difference in the quest for positive mental health for all.
We know mentally healthy people and cultures are the foundations of performance and resilience. As guardians of the game, we have a responsibility to demonstrate what a mentally healthy culture looks like, meaning we must set a good example and provide leadership to the game.
Over the past 12 months we’ve made significant progress in this space, not only with the addition of my role as mental health and wellbeing manager, but also launching a four-year internal strategy created to support the mental health and wellbeing of our employees and our national teams.
Some of our internal initiatives include the introduction of a platform housing resources, guidance and access to specialist support and campaigns.
Communication and visibility are key, and we continue to share a variety of content on a weekly basis, centred on how we can individually and collectively prioritise mental health and wellbeing. Mandatory training and education programmes are being delivered across the organisation, and for those representing our national teams, we’ve embedded a comprehensive network of support to ensure everybody can access specialist mental health care.
Like many organisations, we’re on a journey when it comes to mental health and wellbeing. We know there is more to be done and there will be learnings along the way, but it fills me with pride that mental health is a genuine and long-term priority for the FA.
I know all too well that mental health isn’t an easy subject to discuss, particularly within the footballing environment. That’s part of the battle we’re trying to overcome collectively.
We want to ensure we’re reaching vulnerable groups and that we’re continuing to build mentally healthy cultures as we move out of lockdown, supporting clubs at all levels to be able to do the same.
My advice for anybody reading this who is struggling or is concerned that somebody close to them is struggling, is to start off small. Have that first conversation, reach out to someone you trust, and ask for help from a person that you feel comfortable with. There is always someone who can listen and help.
For additional support beyond ourselves or your local County FA, contact the Samaritans, which offers 24/7 support, mental health charity Mind, or Calm, whose digital offering can really benefit those who feel like they need to prioritise time for themselves.
Collectively, we are wholly committed to making mental health a priority across English football, ensuring it is treated just as seriously, and is cared for preventively, as physical health is.