Mental health and wellbeing manager Dr. Jenn Gandhi on Mental Health Awareness Week

Monday 13 May 2024

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK, which is an opportunity for all of us to reflect and think more carefully about how we can truly improve our mental health and wellbeing.

This year’s theme focuses on the importance of adding movement to our daily routines and highlighting how moving our bodies can positively impact our minds – something which naturally aligns well with football.

In recent years, our organisation and our wider industry has largely focused on building an infrastructure so our people and supporters who may be struggling have access to the support they need. This work has seen the emphasis on raising awareness, delivering education, enabling access to referrals and implementing important tools and resources.

We’ve made good progress in this area with many of these initiatives now well embedded, and while we will continue to evolve these elements, it’s important that we now move the conversation beyond raising awareness and challenging stigma. We must now use the platform of our national sport to shift towards achieving positive mental wellbeing, moving the focus onto proactive, preventative care for everybody, all the time.

Life is hard – it’s often high pressure both inside and outside of work. If you take the industry of football as one example, in this world, we are always ‘on’ – a kind of lifestyle the human mind was not necessarily wired to thrive in without appropriate care. Our approach supports the idea that every person on the planet needs some form of support, every day, to effectively manage the turbulence of life and foster positive wellbeing.

With this in mind, I believe we need to better understand what support looks like for individuals. For one person, this could mean embedding a little more movement into your life each day, for others it’s learning to breathe better and take a moment to pause, and for some there may be periods of increased access to therapeutic support. And for somebody else, it will be entirely different.

As the governing body of English football, we’re looking at how we can evolve our infrastructure to focus on preventative care and positive wellbeing. Part of this means transforming our internal Employee Assistance Programme, making better use of digital healthcare to upskill our people on how to take care of their minds, manage emotions, and engage in the right level and type of support for their day-to-day lived experiences.

We will also soon roll out the R;pple browser extension to further protect our people. This important online interceptive tool is designed to ensure appropriate support is provided to individuals who are searching for terms related to self-harm or suicide, also supporting R;pple’s mission to provide a brighter, better-informed conversation around mental health. This will also be made available free of charge for our people to use on their personal and family devices at home should they wish.

Furthermore, understanding that men are statistically the most at-risk group for suicide and less likely to reach out for support, we’re also driving a suicide prevention programme for our male leaders. Our aim here is to create a community that’s better placed to support each other and colleagues across the organisation should there be any concerns of this nature. This builds on the network of over 40 mental health ambassadors within our workforce who’ve been trained specifically on how to spot signs of concern in their colleagues and offer safe spaces for supportive conversation, signposting and support.

In 2020 we joined other governing bodies, leagues and organisations across UK football in signing the Mentally Healthy Football Declaration. This was a joint commitment to making mental health a key priority at all levels of the game, building on the important work that clubs and football organisations are already doing, working together to scale up these efforts across the football system and support the development of mentally healthy clubs. This is something we’re proud to be part of, and this group is currently carrying out research to better understand best practice when it comes to preventative measures, and which interventions are best to support individuals across football.

We hope to be in a strong position to provide a joint update on the Mentally Healthy Football Declaration next year, but in the shorter-term, later this year the FA will publish its next mental health strategy. We’re excited to share what that will entail for our employees over the coming months, and ensuring we fulfil the Declaration’s aims for the wider game is shaping our thinking on the strategy’s objectives and desired outcomes.

My one ask of everybody for now would be to consider the theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Physical movement is so important for our mental health and wellbeing – but that doesn’t mean you need to start training for a marathon or doing a certain amount of strenuous exercise each day. Don’t compare yourself to others – move your body in your way, connect with nature, concentrate on breathing deeply and slowly, and take each day as it comes.

By Dr. Jenn Gandhi Mental health and wellbeing manager