Kris Boyd’s new goal is better mental health awareness

At the launch of his new charity,  Kris Boyd said he would take more pride in its success than anything he has achieved in football. Picture: SNS.
At the launch of his new charity, Kris Boyd said he would take more pride in its success than anything he has achieved in football. Picture: SNS.
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The pain of losing his wee brother Scott to suicide will never diminish for Kris Boyd and the Kilmarnock striker’s family. His heartfelt hope is that the charity he launched yesterday just might spare others from having to deal with a tragedy still so “raw” for Boyd and those closest to him.

Scott Boyd took his own life in September 2016. In the months after, the former Scotland striker felt that he had to do something to attempt to reach out to others who may feel “down”, “anxious”, “depressed” or harbour “suicidal thoughts” after his younger sibling tragically had been unable to do so in his most desperate moments. It has taken him a year to establish The Kris Boyd Charity, but he hopes for many years to come the organisation can make a difference to those who all-too-often can suffer in silence.

“If I can help one person and stop their family going through what mine has gone through, especially my mum and dad… ” Boyd said. “I feel if I go and tackle it I can help a lot of people. I can raise awareness. There are loads of different charities, foundations, different companies and individual people out there doing a fantastic job right now. But they also need help in raising awareness. We need to do everything we possibly can. As men, there is always a period where you feel down, but you are the big strong guy and you don’t want to admit it. You just carry on through it. It is about breaking those barriers down and saying it is alright to speak, it is alright to open up.

“I don’t mind being at the forefront because if it helps the charity to have one success in the near future and it stops somebody’s else’s family going through what I have then it will have been worth it.”

Boyd knows any changes he can affect aren’t going to “happen overnight”. He knows he need “the public and everyone to help”, in the form of financial support, for the organisation to make good on its aims. Those amount to getting the message out on social media and through events that The Kris Boyd Foundation will provide free counselling sessions with psychologist Donald MacNaughton – whose efforts in sport have included working for the Scottish Football Association, the Irish Football Association, the Rugby Football League and the British Association of Ski Instructors – for any person who could benefit from having someone to talk to. Boyd first worked with MacNaughton when playing for Scotland under-16s. He considers his input vital to the charity.

‘The times that I’ve spoken to him over the years showed he can really help you understand who you are, as a person. I hope, going forward, he can do that for the general public. I think there are a lot of people in football struggling with their mental health, but there are more people out of football struggling. I hope, by raising awareness and taking it step by step means we can go far. There is no medication going to be involved. The NHS do a fantastic service. But there are just too many people with the symptoms.

“For us, we’re trying to be different by raising awareness – and educate people who might be around others struggling with stress and depression.

‘So we want to engage with people who might come into contact with the people struggling – give them the tools to understand what they’re going through. Hopefully that helps before it gets to the stage of, yes, my wee brother, but a lot of other people as well.

‘But not just that. There are a lot of people out there struggling with depression, anxiety and everything. From speaking to Donald, going through everything, the medication part just numbs the pain. Until you get inside, get your feelings out there, you can take medication if you like. But it’s like taking paracetamol for a sore head. You’ll be OK but two hours later the paracetamol wears off – and you’ve still got the sore head. ”

Boyd knows that his profile – he jokes that over recent months his trenchant punditry he led to him appearing in every newspaper, airwave and channel covering Scottish football – can help drive his charity’s desire to raise awareness. He wants his campaign to go beyond football. At the same time, he recognises that the game, and the community spirit he has witnessed at the core of Kilmarnock in the 18 years since he first came to the club, are crucial to what he hopes to achieve across the wider populace.

His career has been adorned with goals and glory but creating a legacy in how he helps those struggling with their mental health would be an equally powerful impression to leave in Scottish society.

“My football career and charity are two different things,” he said. “When my career is finished I’ll look back on it and see what went on. With this it’s something for the future and something I want to tackle. I want to put the effort into it and I’ve never been one to shy away from any scenario.

“I’ll always be at the forefront of anything I do and this will involve a lot of hard work. If we can go out there and do what we need to do then I firmly believe the charity will be a success. If that is the case then I would sit and take more pride from that than anything I achieved in football because it is someone’s life.”

Football as a force for good too often fails to be recognised properly. Boyd concedes the issues remain profound when it comes to well-being problems suffered by youngsters who do not make the grade, or by former pros who struggle to adjust once their playing days end. But the very open acknowledgement by major sporting figures that they have been gripped by mental illness has done much to remove the stigma. A chief case in point has been Neil Lennon’s willingness to go public on his challenges.

“For me Neil has been seen in a totally different light since that,” said the former Rangers striker. “A lot of people would come out and say he was a hothead, but most people didn’t understand what was going through his head.

“I think when he first openly spoke about it I think it would have saved a lot of people. If someone like that can come out and speak it can only help. If a Celtic captain, a Celtic manager can speak about it why can’t others? For this charity I will be at the forefront and I will try to engage with as many people as I possibly can. But we need more people to come forward. I know it is in football dressing rooms, I know there are people struggling out there. The key thing is that is not just football.”

l Kris Boyd was speaking at the launch of his charity to raise awareness and funds for mental health. The inaugural event is a Valentine’s Ball at Ayr Racecourse on 17 February. For more details go to www.thekrisboydcharity.co.uk