Hopelessness, loneliness, frustration - just a handful of emotions that a person suffering with mental health issues may feel.
The 2018/19 EFL season was a groundbreaking one for many reasons, none more so than the EFL’s charity partnership with Mind. Like physical health, everyone has mental health, both are equally important to look after. Whether you’re a star striker or a season ticket holder, with one in four people experiencing a mental health problem, the EFL and Mind believe that no one should have to live in fear about opening up and are using the power of football to improve the nation’s wellbeing.
Ahead of this weekend’s ‘Mind United: Trek the Peak District’ challenge, the EFL spoke to Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, about the first year of the partnership, the progress made and what’s in store for this season.
Could you start by just giving a bit of information and background on how the EFL and Mind partnership came about and the process that came with that?
We’ve had an interest in the world of sport and mental health for a few years now and on top of that we knew that a number of our local Minds were already working with some of the EFL Clubs, so we were really pleased to be invited to come and pitch to be the EFL charity partner.
It was a tough old pitch, we were obviously very mindful of the fantastic work that had been done by Prostate Cancer previously, we had big shoes to fill but we were delighted to win that pitch and from then what we were really hoping to achieve was our shared ambition of being able to make a real impact in the football world by working together when it comes to mental health awareness.
What has the partnerships provided Mind with and how do you think it’s been effective so far?
So when the partnership was confirmed, we wanted to do three things, certainly in this first year. The first thing was to raise awareness of Mind and the issue of mental health and the most fantastic thing has been to see the Mind logo with the squiggle on the back of the shirt and the players names. That has been phenomenal when it comes to raising awareness and understanding about the work that we’re doing. We know from conversations up and down the country that that is really getting people talking about mental health.
The second thing has always been how we connect and support Clubs to really think about the mental health of their communities. We wanted to connect our local Mind networks with the EFL Clubs and it’s really pleasing to see that every EFL club now has a partnership with a local Mind.
The third thing we wanted to do was obviously raise funds to continue this work and we’re off to a really good start on that with various fundraisers that have happened, particularly the Mind United Trek this weekend.
For those that might not know, can you explain what the squiggle on the back of the players’ shirts is and what that represents?
With regards to the squiggle in the Mind logo, when you have emerging mental health problems, you’re life is often in a state of chaos and sometimes you don’t know what is happening to you, you can be anxious and frightened. When we were designing the logo, people with their own mental health problems described a sense of chaos in their head, which is what we felt the squiggle represented. But out of the squiggle comes the order and hope that Mind might be able to give people.
One of the great joys of this partnership has actually been people asking us what the squiggle means because it’s brought us back to our roots to explain the rationale behind it and what life can sometimes be like when you live with a mental health problem. Fundamentally what we’re here to do is help bring people a little bit of hope and order.
Now we are halfway through the partnership after completing the first season, what will you be looking to build on for the second season?
We’re halfway through in terms of time, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Like all second halves of football matches this is where games are won and lost. The opportunity is there for us is to really build on that initial awareness that we have started to create, moving into encouraging people to think about how they can look after their own mental health.
Within the Clubs, we’re interested in how we can further deepen the work that that many of the Clubs and the EFL are doing in the course of the next year. We’ve got plans for training sessions with coaches, players and people who work in Clubs and the local communities with our ‘Get Set To Go’ programme, which is where we bring together people with mental health problems in football.
Finally, we want to make sure we have enough funds to really deliver on this work so the second season for us is a big opportunity to make a real difference and embed this work with Clubs so we have a strong platform to build on. We want people to know that if they need help Mind is there to support them.
Throughout the first season you’ve been doing some work in Clubs, what has that training involved?
The whole idea of this has been to bring the mental health conversation into Clubs. Our Head of Sport Hayley Jarvis has been working with Clubs to devise a training programme and programmes that have allowed us to have those mental health conversations with players, coaching staff and wider people. We want to help people spot the signs.
It’s about building skills and confidence and is the football equivalent of a training session where you build your understanding of how you behave and what you can do to support people with mental health problems.
Last season we saw players publicly talk about mental health, whether it’s been their own issues or just to raise awareness for others. The results are there to see as players are really starting to take the lead on this aren’t they?
To us, that’s one of the first signs of success, when people are beginning to feel a bit more comfortable in not only talking about mental health to their friends, but actually being more open to a wider audience. We’re seeing player champions emerge and also fan champions emerge who are really starting to be open and talk about their own issues.
We know it’s tough and we know there’s still a stigma around mental health in society but we’ve seen great progress this year and that’s there to build on.
For anyone who reads this who might not know, what are some of the feelings that someone might feel if they are struggling with a mental health problem?
There are many different symptoms people might feel. Some people may have trouble sleeping, trouble eating or show signs of anxiety. Sometimes the things that you usually find quite easy to do become difficult and you find yourself just not being able to do them. Your friends might ask if you want to do something and usually you would say yes, but you just don’t want to, so you withdraw from people. These are all signs that something just might not be right and that it’s okay to ask for help.
And for those who might not know how to go about getting support from Mind, how easy is going to get in touch and get that support?
The easiest thing to do is to visit the Mind website at Mind.org.uk. We have the Mind information line which is for people to call on 0300 123 3393 or text on 86463. There is also a live chat tool for anyone to use if they are uncomfortable speaking on the phone.