Mental Health Awareness Week IIII: One in Four

Today’s post was written by M, my lovely guest blogger.

One in four is what the research says. One in four people have mental health issues. In January 2016, the population of London was listed as 8,600,000 and using the statistics, 2,150,000 of those people have mental health issues. Across the UK, the population is 64,100,000 and 16,025,000 of those people have mental health issues. One in every four people you come across have a mental health issue. The same theory applies in sports.

The favoured sport in England is football. We live for it, we fight over it, we laugh over it, we cry over it – a whole spectrum of emotions over 22 men on a pitch chasing a ball. 22 men on a pitch chasing a ball surrounded by thousands of people roaring and millions more watching. The pressure to perform well, the pressure to succeed, the pressure…

This weekend, Wembley Stadium will play host to the FA Cup final. 100,000 fans will travel to the stadium to cheer on their team. Will Crystal Palace do the unthinkable? Will Manchester United arrive on time and achieve the expected?

Using the 1 in 4 theory, 25,000 fans in the stadium will have a mental health issue. 5 ½ footballers on the pitch will have a mental health issue.

When it comes to mental health and sports, is there a stigma attached? We hear from (often retired) sportspeople about their experiences but to my knowledge no current high level footballer has been open as to say whether or not they have a mental health issue. It could be that they do not, but it may also be that they are afraid of the reaction they will receive if they opened up.

Emotions run very high in sports. Any sign of weakness is leapt upon and chants are created to expose the weakness and destroy any fighting spirit from the accused. We see this often when monkey chants are directed to players of Afro-Caribbean descent; Anti-Semitic chants at clubs and players with a Jewish history; Homophobic chants at players suspected of being gay. All this in 2016 when the world has supposedly progressed to be more enlightened.

How would we as fans of the game, treat a player who was open about his mental health issues. Would we cheer or jeer? Would we look to support or lynch at the first opportunity? Keeping in mind that 25,000 other people in the stadium would also have mental health issues, where does that leave us who are in the majority?

Will we hide behind those jeers in the hope no one will look to us for support? When surrounded by loud and frightening chants, will we shrink into our seat careful not to be caught on television? Or will we take a stand. Will we stand up for those who are unable to stand up for themselves? Will we stand up for the player on the pitch, for the 25,000 in the stadium, for the 2,150,000 in London, for the 16,025,000 in the UK, for the 1,781,250,000 in the world?

Mental Health Awareness Week should not be the only time we remember those who suffer mental health issues. Those who see, feel, experience different things. ‘We are our brothers’ keepers’ is a phrase that is often thrown around. But in this case, we are. We have a duty to stand up for those who cannot. We have a duty to do better, to be better.

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