General bits

Men’s Mental Health Within Sport

*TRIGGER WARNING* Will focus on serious and potentially upsetting content

This is going to be a much more serious post today but an incredibly important one nonetheless. There is a crisis regarding men’s mental health in today’s society. Every 60 seconds, a man somewhere around the world takes his life. Suicide remains to be the biggest killer in men under 50 and approximately 75% of suicides in the UK are male. Despite more men speaking out and talking when they’re struggling, it still remains a terrifying thing to do with many people scared of worrying friends, family, teammates and partners therefore deciding to keep their problems to themselves. With today being international men’s day and the middle of Movember, it felt it would be appropriate to take a closer look at men’s mental health within the world of sport.

Mental health within sport is not something that has always received attention with it often being overlooked or straight up ignored. With the traditional “stiff upper lip” mindset of past decades many men in sport suffering did not want to speak up in fear of looking weak therefore keeping their problems to themselves and suffering in silence. Many lived in fear of just being told to “man up” (a term I absolutely cannot stand) and unfortunately that is still the case today. One case of a sportsman battling mental illness and addiction in the 70s and 80s and keeping it to himself was George Best. Whilst being one of the most talented footballers of his time, Best struggled with issues of self-confidence, addiction and depression. He always wanted to be the best performer on the pitch and afterwards the best on the night out. John Neil Munro noted in his book When George came to Edinburgh that his wife knew when he was going through depressive episodes and unfortunately he would turn to drink to cope. This came at a time when there was little to no support networks within sport for those who were suffering from mental illness and addiction.

Today there is more of an effort made within sport from grassroots to the professional game to support those with mental illness. The UK charity Mind have been partnered with the English Football League for two seasons with their logo on the back of shirts by the players names. They also offer a course to those who work within sport be it coaches, administrators or volunteers across England and Wales on how to support those with mental illness. This year the English Institute of Sport launched a positive mental health programme for athletes should they require it. The programme has four steps where athletes can access support from the EIS or the British Athletics Commission, they’re then assessed by a doctor to determine the nature of the problem before being referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist and then receiving a programme of support. This kind of support and awareness from professional bodies is crucial in the fight against mental health. Although it is far from complete, this kind of support can be a trigger for other professional bodies to follow suit and offer the much needed support for people within sport. Former Arsenal captain and all-time footballing legend Tony Adams founded his own clinic called Sporting Chance which specialises in supporting sportsmen and women who are struggling following his own battles with mental illness and addiction. Ricky Hatton praised the clinic in his autobiography War and Peace as they know how to support athletes well through Adams’ experiences. This kind of support is vital as it’s people helping others within sport based on their own experiences and using their fame for a positive cause.

There has also been an increase in sports stars speaking out about their battles with mental illness. I recently read Ricky Hatton’s autobiography in which he talked about his battle with depression following his bouts with Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. It was distressing to read about how he would self-harm and attempted to take his life but it’s incredibly important that he’s talked about it. It goes to show that you can be famous and have however much money but mental illness doesn’t discriminate. However he managed to come back through support from professionals. There’s nothing weak about asking for help and Hatton has proved that. Another pro who has been an advocate for mental health following his battles with addiction and mental illness is Lineal Heavyweight champion of the world, Tyson Fury. The world was his oyster following his famous win in Germany against Wladimir Klitschko in 2015 however he soon started to struggle badly with mental illness and alcohol and substance addiction. He’s said in interviews how he nearly took his own life but kept fighting for his family. A few years on and he’s back in the ring, he’s recently recorded a Christmas song with Robbie Williams and appeared at WWE’s Saudi Arabia event Crown Jewel in October 2019. This goes to show what great things can come when you seek help when you’re struggling. Fury and Hatton are two sporting heroes of mine and millions of others and showing the bravery they have to come out and talk about their struggles in the macho world of men’s boxing (and men’s professional sport in general) is exactly the engagement and awareness we need to prove that it’s ok not to be ok and to get help when you’re struggling.

So the next time one of the lads in the dressing room is particularly quiet, has missed a few training sessions or decides against coming for a drink after the game. The next time you’re out with your friends and one of them who’s usually always there hasn’t come along for an unexplained reason. If you notice somebody who you’re close to has been a bit distant and haven’t heard from them in a long time, please get them to speak before it’s too late. Just a quick “is everything ok mate?” text can make a world of difference and encourages them to talk and they know that you’re there for them. If you’re suffering then please tell somebody. I know it’s the last thing you want to do but communication is so important. Be it a friend, family member, partner, boss, teammate, helpline or GP, there are people who will listen and can help. You are important, you have worth, you are loved and are capable of incredible things. Please, speak up if you’re struggling and check in with your friends.

Here are the numbers for some mental health and suicide hotlines in various countries around the world. Samaritans (UK and IRE) – 116 123; National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA) – 1-800-2738255; Lifeline (Australia) – 13 11 14; Need to Talk? (NZ) – 1737; Suicide écoute (FRA) – 01 45 39 44 00; Samaritans ONLUS (ITA) – 800 86 00 22; Stitching 113Online (NED) – 0900 0113; Suicide Crisis Line (RSA) – 0800 567 567; Teléfono de la Esperanza (ESP) – 717 003 717