#ReachOut - the most important thing you can do for your mental health

FIFA back the #ReachOut campaign for better mental health
FIFA back the #ReachOut campaign for better mental health / FIFA

"Whoever you are, it becomes harder when you’re hiding that something is wrong."

Roberto Martinez

Reaching out is the single biggest thing you can do to support your mental health. Struggling with mental health is not a weakness, nor is seeking help when you need it.

Anyone can be affected by conditions like depression or anxiety, they do not discriminate. But the important thing is to recognise that are things you can do and help is never far away.

Communication – it doesn’t even have to be talking – is always the key.

Mental health struggles were a factor in retired striker Marvin Sordell’s decision to walk away from football at the age of just 28.

Joining Bolton for £3m, playing in the Premier League and representing Great Britain at the Olympics, all within the space of a few months was both the best and worst time of his career, bringing an enormous burden. But by his own admission he was ‘very withdrawn’ emotionally and that contributed to reaching ‘breaking point’ and an attempt to take his own life.

“Depression is like driving down a road in pitch black and never imagining light. You never imagine that changing,” he said. “[But] the most important thing is being close to people, and that can be reaching out. You don’t always have to even talk; communication comes in many forms.”

Sordell isn’t an isolated case within football and reaching out is the vital takeaway from his story and others. In England, the number of players who sought help with their mental health have quadrupled since 2016. More than 10% of the PFA’s 4,000 members contacted counselling services in the first nine months of 2020 – the most common concerns were ‘low mood’ and ‘anxiety’.

"You don’t always have to even talk; communication comes in many forms."

Marvin Sordell

Fara Williams said that communicating her feelings was an important step in addressing mental health struggles brought on by a kidney illness that was a big factor in her decision to retire this year.

“Talking with people and being open about things, rather than keeping everything closed, helped me to be more in touch with it,” the Lionesses legend explained.

Her story highlights the importance of being able to recognise mental health symptoms in others because she was, in her own words, ‘crying out’ for help without directly seeking it herself.

“The acceptance of needing to talk to someone is difficult. I guess I was crying out, through my actions, when I was ill that I needed to talk, I wanted to talk, but I needed somebody to initiate that for me,” Williams said.

Jesse Lingard was a Manchester United player living out his childhood dream when worsening mental health began affecting him in 2019 and early 2020.

Looking after his younger brother and sister while his mum was treated for her mental health problems, he was ‘bottling up’ his problems and trying to handle too many different things on his own at the same time as trying to keep his own life and career on track.

“It feels like you’re not the same person,” he opened up to Presenting… this year.

“I felt like I wasn’t Jesse Lingard. Even in football matches, I felt like the game was just passing me by, like I just didn’t want to be there – it was crazy…So, I opened up to United and told them what I was going through, what my mum was going through and they’re always there to help.”

Pressure is a huge issue for people in every walk of life and at every level of football.

Chelsea defenders Ben Chilwell revealed on Twitter last year that he had been struggling with mental health because of low confidence, but had sought help.

“I didn't talk to anyone and just kept it to myself for a few months,” he later admitted to BBC’s Football Focus. “Last season I struggled with confidence and the fact that I've come out and spoken about it might help others to talk to people and tell people about their problems.

“If you are struggling and you feel like you're by yourself then talk to someone, whether that's a friend, a family member or something confidential like on a helpline, then just do it.”

"My advice would be to talk...if you're holding it in, it's a ticking time-bomb"

Sonny Pike

Sonny Pike wasn’t a professional footballer when mental health took its toll on his burgeoning career, but the child prodigy kept things bottled up as he struggle to deal with the intense pressure and attention that came with his enormous talent.

“I was doing a lot of media work and I turned into this child celebrity, a ‘wonder kid’. I don’t think I’ve ever seen another kid get the same sort of attention,” Pike explained.

“There were people who were worried for me, but I didn’t say anything. Like, I just want to play football, but I want to keep people happy at the same time.”

“My advice would be to talk. Reach out to people. I find, if you do talk, it sort of takes the pressure from within, whereas if you’re holding it in, it’s a ticking time-bomb.”

Mental health is not only something that affects players in the football world, but coaches too.

Belgium boss Roberto Martinez called it a ‘snowball effect’ if you don’t reach out.

“Whoever you are, it becomes harder when you’re hiding that something is wrong. It's almost a snowball effect, and the problem becomes bigger,” he said.

“It ends up affecting not just your performance, which is probably the first thing you can see, but more importantly the happiness of yourself and the people you love.”

He also acknowledged that being a coach can be a ‘lonely position’

“It becomes even more important that you have people you can speak with and open up and share how you feel. One thing that’s clear is that you need to be able to switch off, and the best way to switch off in any career is to share time with the people you love,” he explained.

"Depression is an illness, not a weakness."

Teresa Enke

Teresa Enke is the widow of former Benfica, Barcelona and Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke, who tragically took his own life in 2009 at the age of 32, having earlier been treated for depression.

“If you notice that you might be struggling, it’s so important to open up to someone. If you notice that a good friend has psychological issues, I would advise them to get help. Depression is treatable if it hasn’t yet taken hold completely,” she said.

“The role of a good friend or partner is to be by someone’s side and empathise with them. Sometimes it is even as simple as sitting and listening to them. Depression is an illness, not a weakness. If that acceptance is there, then the person struggling feels they can open up about it.”

The Robert Enke Foundation was set up in 2010 to raise awareness about mental health conditions and eliminate the stigma attached to them. But Teresa’s work has made a difference.

“I think Robbie will be proud as he looks down from up there. People are addressing the issue and finally acknowledging just how important mental health is. And yes, it can happen to anyone,” she said.

You can watch FIFA's #ReachOut for better mental health campaign video here.