As part of raising awareness for mental health within football, the EFL visited Notts County Football Club in the Community, as they hosted their annual ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’.
In attendance was Notts County defender Matt Tootle, who in a revealing interview first aired on TalkSPORT in October, spoke about his own mental health struggles and overcoming them to get his career back on track with Kevin Nolan’s high-flying side.
“I’ve come down [to the Portland Centre] to see what work is being done and speak to as many people as I can to find out more. What I’ve seen so far has been quite refreshing, but I want to see what is being done to help these people.” Tootle explained.
When speaking about his interview with TalkSPORT, Tootle said: “The reaction has been unbelievable – for me it has been quite emotional.
“From the place I was in to be able to speak out now, I take great pleasure in trying to help people. I know what some of these people are going through and to hear about how much I have helped is really good.”
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the event in Nottingham, this week was extra special, with an afternoon of activities being put on at the Portland Centre to help adult health and wellbeing.
There was an opportunity to test your skills with a game of badminton, whilst stalls throughout the venue provided important information about the signs of mental health and how to begin to overcome the illness – including advice from Dr. Nigel Plant, a health and wellbeing expert.
It was June 2014 when Matt began to feel ‘different’ within himself. Tootle explained that during a family holiday it escalated quickly to almost derail not only his professional career, but also his personal life.
“It was the worst holiday I’ve ever been on… the worst feeling was not knowing what was happening at the time – it was the worst week of my life. I was so embarrassed and confused and I continued to feel like that for another six months until I spoke out.
“The biggest thing for me is that if I can speak out and overcome these struggles then other people with similar problems can too. It took me six months to speak out but if I had sooner it could have been dealt with quickly.”
Tootle went on to discuss how a conversation with his mother sparked his road to recovery, as he struggled for up to 18 hours a day with the illness; with broken night’s sleep the only small respite in a whirlwind time in the now 27-year-old's life.
As part of his recovery, he entered the Priory Hospital for mental health and was diagnosed before starting cognitive behavioural therapy – something he believes was an important step.
“That in itself is a big test,” he continued. “You have to be strict with yourself to keep doing the techniques and really work and believe you can overcome it.
“Even if you’re having a bad day it’s was important to know that what you’re feeling isn’t real and you have to keep going.
“It’s hard because that’s not your only worry in life. I had a career and a job that was spiralling out of control. People had forgotten about me and tagged me.
“That is probably my biggest thing at the moment, to try and make sure managers or players don’t tag people who have had these issues in the past. People could say I am not mentally strong, but in my opinion it is the opposite, personally I think I’m one of the strongest people out there.”
Matt was also quick to praise his manager, Kevin Nolan. The defender has returned to the first-team set-up at Meadow Lane and is delighted to finally be enjoying his football again.
He added: “Since the new manager has come in he has been unbelievable with me. He knows me and what I need. When I came back after the summer he and the assistant manager both congratulated me telling me how proud they were that I’d come through this.
“I was worried they would ‘tag’ me as I mentioned earlier, but if anything they saw it as the opposite, which was refreshing to hear.
“I like to think that they’ve seen I’ve come on leaps and bounds and that there is much more to come from me as well!”
With Matt beginning to overcome his illness and returning to his professional career, things are starting to look up on the football pitch as well. Notts County lead the way in League Two after sixteen games, returning to the summit after last weekend’s emphatic 3-0 victory against Newport County at Meadow Lane.