Fit for Life
Through Hibernian’s Community links with Lothian Health Board, and various other GameChanger initiatives, the idea of being “fit for life” has become a prominent part of the Club’s progressive development over the past couple of years.
Whilst health checks for spectators are now a common event at Easter Rd Stadium, through the partnership with “Living it Up”, health support for the players is also a priority. The Sports Medicine and Science departments at the Hibernian Training Centre play a major role in the development of Hibs’ players at all levels, and the Development Squad Education and Welfare Programme also seeks to encourage the younger players to be aware of good practice in their own health habits.
As well as physical fitness, mental wellbeing is a crucial part of being a successful sportsman or woman, and so earlier this month, the education programme topic, focusing on mental health, was of great importance.
Steve Mathers, of Penumbra Scotland, visited the squad to raise awareness of mental health issues and encourage the importance of seeking help and support. The players heard that adolescent males, as well as elite sports performers, were statistically at risk of mental illness, but, generally, one in three of us can be affected by such issues in our lifetime, and at any given moment 20% of young people in this country have mental health issues.
He gave an outline of symptoms and of the treatment which is available, and warned against “bottling it up”. “To share the problem and seek help is a sign of bravery, rather than weakness”, he added, and pointed out that the sooner these issues were confronted, the less chance there was of them having a major impact on our lives. Whether we had to deal with these challenges ourselves, or to support friends or family who were struggling, the key to improvement and renewed wellbeing was to share and seek support.
Footballers who have identified themselves as needing support include Stan Collymore, Andy Cole, Clarke Carlisle, and Paul Gascoigne, and, as Steve pointed out, Hibernian’s Head Coach, Neil Lennon has also spoken out on the issue, as well as being linked with “See Me”, the organisation which fights to end mental health stigma and discrimination.
In a wide ranging interview on the subject, referring to depression and its effects on a professional sportsman, Lennon has said: “I woke up one morning and I just knew there wasn’t something right with me. My thought process was different, I was feeling different, the main thing was the football, I just didn’t want to be there.”
Recently, the English FA reported a 20% rise in mental health issues amongst professional footballers and FIFPro, the international players’ union, suggested from their surveys that between 3 and 9 players in a 25 man squad could show symptoms of common mental disorders such as distress, anxiety or depression during a season, and that one in three footballers could experience similar during their career. Robbie Neilson, Hearts’ Head Coach, and former Hibs stalwart, Ian Murray, along with PFA Scotland, have worked hard to raise awareness of this growing issue in Scotland, especially within the football community.
During the session, Steve Mathers said: “It is important that young players, like all youngsters know there is support available, and they are not expected to face depression or other illnesses alone.”
As Education and Welfare officer for Hibernian FC, part of my remit is to support young players who may be facing challenges above and beyond the pressures of playing for a top level football club. Whilst, to many, the idea of being signed to a professional club equates with “living the dream”, it has to be recognised that the pursuit of success at the highest level brings its own pressures and stresses. In addition, we must remember that, apart from their football careers, these young men are going through all the normal development associated with adolescence, starting a new job, and perhaps moving away from home for the first time.
In addition, in a purely footballing sense, a player suffering anxiety or depression is unlikely to be able to perform consistently at his optimum level.
Scotland’s males traditionally find it difficult to express their emotions and discuss their anxieties, and the environment of a sports dressing room, with its competitiveness and drive to succeed, does not always make for the easiest atmosphere in which to admit to worries or concerns.
I believe a football club has a responsibility for the young people who wear its strip – not just in terms of their footballing progress but also in their personal development. Our education programme seeks to provide the kind of support young players may have received had they stayed on at school instead of pursuing a football career.
They need to know that support and advice for them is available at every level at the football club, and that being brave enough to share concerns is every bit as important as standing up to a determined forward, or launching a crucial tackle.
The current squad are a fine set of lads of whom any club would be proud, and they deserve the best in the way of support and guidance.
Leeann Dempster, Hibs CEO, has pointed out that football can reach parts of the community which other agencies cannot – that is the point behind the GameChanger initiative. Hopefully, raising awareness of mental health issues amongst our development squad will lead to a positive attitude amongst them – for themselves and others – in knowing how to admit to any anxieties and sharing them to help maintain positive mental health. They can be ambassadors – within the game and in their own communities – to shed light on what is becoming an increasing problem for Scotland’s young people.
Many thanks again to Penumbra Scotland, Steve Mathers, SAMH, See Me, PFA Scoltand and all who have supported the campaign to raise awareness and remove the stigma attached to mental illness.