Grassroots football is being used to raise awareness of mental health issues amid an alarming rate of suicide in young men.
The North Riding County Football Association has teamed up with Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council to create the ‘There’s No Substitute for Good Mental Health’ campaign, which seeks to provide help for those struggling.
Launched in response to a crisis on Teesside, where the incidence of suicide at one point was 70 per cent above the national average, the initiative seeks to use football to reach young men, who are statistically more likely to take their own lives.
Speaking during Mental Health Awareness Week, North Riding FA chief executive Steven Wade told the PA news agency: “We want this campaign to really reach out and have the desired impact of getting people talking about good mental health, and ultimately that might save a life.
“The suicide rate on Teesside is the highest in the country, unfortunately. At one point, it was 70 per cent above the national average, hence the urgency and necessity for the campaign.”
The North Riding FA initiative is one of a series under the Football Association umbrella using the game in an attempt to help people at risk – Surrey FA have formed a partnership with suicide prevention charity Beder – in a particularly difficult-to-reach demographic.
Wade said: “From our own experience and my own professional experience in the past working in sports development and delivering health programmes, we know that young adult males are a difficult target group to reach with health improvement and public health programmes.”
Asked about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, he added: “Inevitably lockdown has played a huge part and had a massive impact upon everyone’s mental health, but particularly that demographic of people who the No Substitute for Good Mental Health campaign targets, young men who live on their own, who potentially are struggling for employment.
“Obviously, there has been huge unemployment as a result of Covid, and inevitably it has had an impact upon people’s mental health generally across the population because we’ve all been locked up indoors for an extended period of time.
“Clearly, football is an outlet for people, so I think it’s inevitable that there’s been an impact upon people who are connected to grassroots football, and that’s why it’s such a timely campaign that we’re involved in.”
A publicity drive directing people to the Every Mind Matters website has been advertised across bus shelters in the borough, on social media and by grassroots clubs.
Wade said: “We’re just encouraging people to talk. If people are struggling, then don’t be afraid to speak up.
“At the same time, if you identify a team-mate or a coach at your club or one of the volunteers who you think may potentially be struggling, then don’t be afraid to approach them and maybe offer to listen and provide that little bit of support, but definitely direct people to the excellent resources that are available on the website.”