One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, according to the mental health charity Mind.
But, in partnership with the English Football League, Mind aims to provide support and respect to anyone who does encounter such issues.
Charlton Athletic, Millwall and AFC Wimbledon are among nine EFL clubs who are aiming to encourage people to get more active as a way of improving their mental wellbeing.
A new phase of the ‘Get Set to Go’ initiative, a nationwide physical activity programme, was launched with a five-a-side tournament at the Addicks’ training ground last month.
Initially funded by Sport England and the National Lottery, ‘Get Set to Go’ is being expanded thanks to fundraising from Mind’s partnership with the EFL.
A ‘platform to engage with’
“We know that getting active is really powerful for our body, but actually it is incredibly helpful for our mind too,” Hayley Jarvis, the head of sport at Mind, said.
“It can help us to reduce our feelings of stress, lifts our mood and we know it can be life-changing for many people who are experiencing mental health problems.
“What really supports people is meeting people who have been through similar experiences.”
Derby County, Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland, Carlisle United, Newport County and Stevenage are the other EFL clubs involved in the latest phase of the initiative, alongside the Addicks, Lions and Dons.
The respective clubs’ community trusts will offer a range of weekly activities to participants.
“When people are suffering with poor mental health, quite often the first thing that happens is isolation,” said Carl Krauhaus, head of early help and prevention at the Charlton Athletic Community Trust (CACT).
“They get distanced from local services, activities, social circles and peer groups. Activity, whatever it is, can prevent that.
“Just getting people together will provide a lot of things that go beyond the activity.
“From working with lots of people with various problems over the years what I always hear is that sometimes they just need a platform to engage with. That is the first step to then being involved in something like this.”
The programme itself launched in 2015, since when more than 3,500 people with mental health problems have benefited and tried out new activities in a relaxed and friendly environment.
“Males round about my age suffer from mental health problems,” participant James Magill, 40, said.
“I have had suicidal thoughts and these events really help me with my own mental health condition.
“I have been in hospital twice and take medication.
“I enjoy being out in the open and running around. With the chemical imbalance, it releases endorphins so even on a biological level it is very cathartic.”
Football can ‘use power to influence the world’
Mind is in the second year of its link-up with the EFL, with its branding featuring on the back of every player’s shirt across the three tiers of the competition.
“To see our logo on the club shirts and raise awareness with millions of fans helps us reach new communities and new audiences,” Jarvis added.
“Whether you are a fan on the terrace, a player or whether you work for the club, we all have mental health and it is really important we look after it.
“Our message is whoever you support, we do support you.”
“Every time I put on the shirt I notice that logo,” AFC Wimbledon captain Will Nightingale said.
“I am sure all the fans do as well. If anybody doesn’t know about Mind then they will get to know it and hopefully we can spread that word as best as we can.
“Football is a well-watched sport worldwide so we need to use that power to influence the world in a positive way.”
Millwall midfielder Ben Thompson and Charlton defender Lewis Page attended the launch event at Sparrow’s Lane and encouraged anyone encountering mental health problems to seek advice.
“Mental health is an issue for many people in the country,” Thompson, 23, said.
“For clubs to be supporting that, helping people and making sure they come out and speak about their problems is the best way to solve it.”
Page added: “I have witnessed it first hand within my life with people who have gone and spoken to people and they have come out far better from it.”
‘A small effort can make a big difference’
The opening five-a-side tournament proved to be a “joyful experience” for those involved, according to Nathan Rendell, a community mental health services manager for Bromley, Lewisham and Greenwich Mind
“We had people on our teams who have been very unwell recently,” Rendell said.
“We have engaged with people who have been in care for most of their lives – quite young and new to our service.
“Being out there on the pitch with them and working together with people they have met only once, it was great.
“It is just getting people to the point that they can engage with it and they feel they can take ownership of that engagement, because that is part of the difficulty sometimes.”
CACT’s Krauhaus is sure the initiative will have an impact.
“What the clubs will do is learn from this partnership with EFL and Mind and realise that actually, with a small amount of effort they can make a big difference in the community just by using their badge to promote activity projects,” he said.
“In two months hopefully all the clubs’ programmes will have grown. That EFL partnership will allow that to happen across the UK and that is really powerful.”