In a world where there are still certain taboos, where mental health issues still get buried for fear that detrimental judgments are made, one community club is taking responsibility.
“I told the board that they would have to be brave to take this on. And they have been. They have been great and it shows that have a sense of responsibility and understand that they have a duty of care,” said Trish Sime, Bonnyrigg Rose’s Community Development Officer, who has encouraged the club to host a seminar aimed at addressing mental health issues.
“We have 500-600 members at the club and, if you believe the statistics, over 100 of them will be suffering from or dealing with mental health issues and, knowing that, we felt we should be doing something positive as a club.
“It is a fact that the suicide rate of males in their late teens and early 20s is still on the rise so if we can address the stigma of mental health and get kids to realise that it is ok if they don’t feel ok and have coaches trained to look for the signs of depression or stress then we can, hopefully, make a difference.”
The seminar, which has attracted the co-operation of several local groups, the council, religious organisations, police, the NHS and the SFA, will be held on 21 September at the club’s sports pavilion in Bonnyrigg.
Sime says it is encouraging that, so far, negativity has been absent, with the club determined to put every coach through training sessions to help them identify and deal with instances of players struggling with mental health issues.
“We believe that football can play a big part in helping,” said Sime, who has already spoken with Orchard Centre, a local organisation who also help with illnesses like depression and report that signing people up for a football league has proved instrumental in helping them live with their demons.
“People like Neil Lennon speaking out about his own mental health problems is also a big help. Footballers and managers are seen as heroes. Kids put them on a pedestal so when they come out and remind people that they are not superheroes and that they have their own issues then it gives others the confidence to speak out or seek help.”
Lennon has been invited to the seminar, with Sime hoping that such a high-profile supporter would bolster the cause, while Hibs legend Pat Stanton has said he will attend.
In the past few years the problems of depression or addictions have been addressed more publicly, with the suicides of Gary Speed and Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke serving as a sad reminder of the worst possible conclusion. Others such as Joey Barton have spoken out about the way gambling has blighted their lives and careers, while others have struggled with the reality of never making it or being released by professional clubs and having to adapt to a life outwith the game.
“It’s not just the football issues. It is about us accepting a duty of care for every child we have at the club.
“As a football club we also have to recognise that every team has a player who is maybe seen as the weak link and we have all heard some of the shouts that come from sidelines. So, it is about addressing it all and trying to change the culture. It won’t be easy but we are making a start.”