The important subject of mental health is finally being talked about in mainstream circles.
Old stereotypes, based on a lack of understanding and outdated ideas of masculinity, have often prevented men in particular from confronting the sad reality of mental health issues. They are real, they are normal, and anyone can suffer from them.
Elite sportsmen are often seen as a separate species, talked about in terms that can deny them their humanity. But ultimately they are human and just as vulnerable to depression or other mental health issues as any other person on the planet.
Former Arsenal star Emmanuel Eboue recently opened up on his battle with depression, admitting that he had suicidal thoughts: “Sometimes I would lock myself in my room for three or four days. Just thinking and asking ‘what’s left?'”
Eboue’s troubles are rooted in a monetary dispute with a former agent, which resulted in him being banned from all football-related activities by Fifa. He subsequently saw his Sunderland contract terminated and, as a consequence of this and a bitter divorce, hit real financial troubles.
“I couldn’t train during the day and was too embarrassed to stay at home,” he said, admitting that he lied to his family out of shame. “My children always asked me when I was going to return to the field, so whenever I stepped out in the morning, I pretended to go to work.”
But thankfully he sought And although his recovery is ongoing, Eboue recently appeared on French TV and has taken part in charity matches, too. “Even today, I still take antidepressants to help me because it is still a long road for me. But here I am hoping others would learn from this.”
Eboue is far from alone in his troubles.
On average, about 84 men take their own lives per week in the UK, where suicide is the biggest killer of males under 45. In 2017 there were 5,821 suicides in the UK and men accounted for a staggering 75% of those deaths (4,382).
These alarming figures (via Mental Health Foundation) must be addressed, and FC Not Alone are among the organisations seeking to do just that. Given the popularity of football in the UK, the sport is well-placed to help dismantle the stigmas attached to mental health.
In the words of co-founder Matthew Legg, FC Not Alone “creates a platform in which people who are struggling can come down to a safe space, and just play football and not have to explain themselves to anybody, but know that everyone is with them in the struggle they’re going through.” The idea of using football to get men to open up about mental health is a potent one.
That is why FC Not Alone partnered up with the charity the CALMZONE to put together the 2018 PLAY4CALM World Cup, an event designed to raise awareness about mental health and help change the culture around it, where men would feel comfortable disclosing their struggles and be more readily able to get the help needed.
It was a massive success and led to FC Not Alone doing more good work throughout the rest of 2018 and into 2019. So this weekend CALM and FC Not Alone have teamed up once again to host the 2019 FC NOT ALONE x CALM World Cup.
“The Tournament will be held on June 15th 2019 at the Market Road Football Pitches in Islington from 12-6pm,” FC Not Alone co-founder Ian McKenzie explains.
“Thirty-six 7aside teams will be battling it out to win the World Cup, with brands such as Adidas, Classic Football Shirts and Footy Addicts taking part. All proceeds from the tournament will be going to CALM.
“After the tournament, FC Not Alone plan to create regular fun football sessions up and down the country for those who have fallen out of love with the game or who never fell in love with it in the first place. [We] also are on a mission to enter the footballing pyramid, conveying the message that it’s OK to not be OK, and that everyone has mental health, just as they have physical health, and we need to treat them both with due care and attention.”
We hope that FC Not Alone continues to grow (you can help them raise funds for CALM by going here) and that those affected by the issues they highlight realise that they don’t have to suffer in silence. There is no shame in what you are going through – other men, even famous footballers, have struggled as you have. Help is out there, people like you are out there, you are not alone.
CALM’s free, anonymous and confidential helpline and webchat are open every day, 5pm-midnight.
Visit thecalmzone.net for more information and support.