Football & Mental Health

I heard an interesting observation the other day. For most of the industrialised age health care provision has focused on physical health, a reflection of the risks of living and working in a pre H&S world, and a world where communicable disease represented a great threat to individuals and the general population. Little consideration was ever given to mental health care provision which reflected the then health care needs of the population.

However, in the 21st Century physical risks are far less and the threat of communicable disease much reduced. Unfortunately, though the incidents and chances of being affected by mental health issues has risen enormously – a reflection of the stresses and strains of modern life.

What’s this got to to do with football?

Well simply, football has been proven time and time again to be a major benefit to those suffering from mental health problems and conditions. The simple act of kicking a ball, playing in a team, meeting in a regular place, socialising with similar individuals, getting out of the house and meeting others hugely assists other professional mental health care where it exists and fills a huge hole where it doesn’t.

As a result many organisations, clubs, local authorities and health care providers are waking up to the benefits to the individual, and as the evidence base increases the enormous return on investment when compared to other forms of mental health provision.

As might be expected, one club in particular, our very own Everton frequently leads the way through the great work of Everton in the Community. The CEO of the Mental Health Football Association will tell anyone who listens the impact EitC had on his life, enabling him to now do the work he does. In the months ahead we’ll feature more of the work of EitC in this field.

Grandoldteam itself has through the efforts of its membership contributed also. Just over 5 years ago Gary Speed tragically took his own life. As a result, “Groucho”, a moderator and one of the originators of Grandoldteam set up a thread in our forum to enable Blues to speak freely about their problems, to offer advice, or just read in the knowledge that others were suffering similar conditions to themselves. Grouch puts it brilliantly in that he said he wanted to create the thread to ensure that no other Blue had to do what Gary Speed unfortunately felt necessary.

This philosophy or goal is echoed elsewhere, Matt Birch of Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust explains that the only acceptable level of suicide is zero for very obvious reasons. He too sees the benefits of football, or indeed a football forum both to health organisations from a cost/return perspective but also from the very clear benefits to individuals.

There’s a gathering momentum to use football within mental health care. So much so that the Mental Health Football Association held an event at the House of Commons earlier this week, hosted and attended by Andy Burnham MP to highlight the opportunities and challenges in developing this important resource. Grandoldteam was present to talk about the unique opportunities an online forum can offer for mental illness sufferers

At Grandoldteam we are keen to help in whichever way we can and we’re actively engaging to bring more benefits to our thread users be it access to football, access to EitC or perhaps even access to health care providers in the future.

In the meantime we asked Colin Dolan, CEO of the Mental Health Football Association for some of his thoughts:

Colin, can you explain briefly the work of the Mental Health Football Association?

“The Mental Health Football Association brings together like-minded people and organisations who believe in the power of football to help those affected by mental ill health, our goals over the coming months and years is to increase awareness of the work being done and results being achieved throughout the UK, we want to increase the number of #footballtherapy initiatives as well and also increase the number of league and cup tournaments.”

What are your next big initiatives?

“Our next big project is the UK Mental Health FA Cup which will include 4 mental health service user teams from each of the home nations, we also aim to have international matches and an exhibition match involving several retired footballers, many of these will be from our team of Ambassadors one of whom will be no stranger to followers of GOT Neville Southall who is very pro-active in increasing awareness throughout Wales and beyond.”

Everton through EitC are very active in this area, and we at Grandoldteam are keen to show the benefits of an online community, what’s your thoughts?

“We fully support the idea of using football forums to reach out and give online support to those in need, those affected by mental ill health who may or may not have been diagnosed, it would be beneficial to see how other football fans forums could adopt a similar set-up to the great support being provided to Evertonians via the GOT website.

Anonymity provides a safe way of opening up however we would actively encourage anyone who needs help to seek professional medical support. It all started with Everton In The Community for me and if it wasn’t for the Imagine Your Goals programme not only would we not have the MHFA I may not have survived another bout of severe depression, I will be forever grateful for all the support the Everton family has given me personally.”

We’re hopeful through the work of MHFA, EitC and many others that the beautiful game we all love as Evertonians (Colin by the way is a Red, but we’ll forgive him, his penance is running the MHFA) will help increasing numbers of mental illness suffers. Hopefully Grandoldteam can do its bit through the forum and future initiatives.

If you’d like to get involved please use the usual contacts within Grandoldteam (@grandoldteam on twitter), contact MHFA through their website or on Twitter @soccer_4_all

Of course, whilst all this activity builds our thread on Grandoldteam is open to all 24/7 365 days a year.

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