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Feature: Mental health; how football can help

Regardless of your gender, race, age, job or background, anyone is prone to suffering from mental illness. New statistics show that now one in four people will suffer with mental illness in any year, and currently 10% of people are suffering from depression at any given time. Though, all is not lost.

The stories of footballers Robert Enke, Frank Bruno and Marcus Trescothick (amid many more) all sadly remind the larger football family we all contribute to, what, woefully, mental illness has the power to do to even the most successful athletes. Though more recent examples of players who have struggled, such as Aaron Lennon and Leigh Griffiths show in a much more positive light, how football can be used as a very effective vehicle to reach greener grass.

In December of last year, Celtic’s number 9 Leigh Griffiths stepped back from football, admitting he had been struggling with depression, a similar story to that of, at the time Everton and England International winger, Aaron Lennon. Lennon’s story first came to the public eye in April 2017, when a member of the public spotted Lennon on the side of the M602 motorway near Salford hospital, in a ‘distressed state’. The player was later detained under the ‘mental health act’ by Police for his own safety.

Since then, Lennon (who currently plays for Burnley) is a changed man, better described by Journalist James Ducker someone “who is enjoying his football again, and moreover, relishing his life again”. Beside the M602 was where Lennon’s depression battle spiked, after what he later admitted was a long battle with the illness, mostly caused though being stuck in a profession he no longer enjoyed. Although now, Lennon sees football totally differently, and credits it for helping out of his “dark days”.

“With all your help (the wider football community) I’ve managed to get myself in a great place and loving each day like you should, also learning so much about myself and learning how important the mind is and what I need to do to look after it.

“The football world has been brilliant to me, especially during difficult times. There are a lot of people I still need to thank and will thank.” (A tweet from Lennon to his fans, on New Year’s Eve 2017 before his transfer to Burnley).

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons. Photo labelled for reuse).

It’s stories like Lennon’s that push the FA to really recognise mental illness in the game, and to their credit, their efforts to tackle what sadly is now a widespread issue, have been outstanding. The FA now offer a range of projects through all communities, catered to all people in a bid to achieve three specific goals; delivering social inclusion, helping physical health and improving people’s mental health and outlook on life.

It’s efforts like these that will hopefully in time help eradicate what has the potential to become a global epidemic, but in turn only highlights how powerful the beautiful game of football can be, in stopping it from doing so.




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