There is a lot of stigma attached to the issue of mental health, and especially amongst men. As someone who has struggled with my mental health for a long time now, I have found it difficult to talk about. Now I have managed to open up a bit more to the Villa Community, I have found myself an enormous and diverse support network, all of whom are willing to help me out whenever I need it. To an outsider, hundreds of football fans may seem like the least likely group of people to seek or find support in, but the absolute opposite is true. While football is seen as an environment where showing “weakness” is frowned upon, or even ridiculed, the Villa community itself is as supportive as they come. Opening up about mental health is far from showing weakness, but being open is a sign of strength. I hope in reading this others will find, as I did, that a surprising number of Villans have similar experiences. Below, a number of football fans share their experiences, with the aim of spreading awareness about different mental health conditions, and ways of helping them. Remember, you’re not alone. Here are their stories, and some words of advice:
“I believe that even though more and more people are talking about mental health, only the tip of the iceberg has been uncovered. There is still a lot of stigma and judgment attached. “You’re a man, be strong” and all that bollox! We’ve lost some amazing people over the years who on the surface appeared to have it all – Robin Williams, Chester Bennington and more recently Keith Flint, who obviously didn’t feel they could be open and honest and that is really sad. Heroes we watch week in week out struggle immensely; Clarke Carlisle, Leon McKenzie, Aaron Lennon, Danny Rose. Not forgetting our very own Lee Hendrie and Stan Collymore. The shock of Gary Speed also. Just because you’re not walking down the street bleeding out of your eyeballs doesn’t mean your fine. If your struggling, it stands a better than average chance that others are too. People need to support, not ridicule.”
Steve (@brumster1975)- Villa Fan
“I’ve struggled to cope with expectations and fluctuations in my career. I put far too much pressure on myself. Honestly, when I finished university it was pretty dark. I expected to walk straight into a writing job and that didn’t happen. I just had so many negative thoughts. I didn’t eat well, didn’t like light, didn’t cut my hair or beard. I just felt like shit and felt like I didn’t deserve to have nice things or even decent things like a bloody haircut!
I dealt with it through medication but I didn’t like it – but now I handle it with meditation, positive thoughts, skincare, exercise and writing. I used to care so much about things – but now I don’t give much of a shit about doing anything except nice, helpful and positive things.”
James Rushton (@jamorushton)- 7500 to Holte
“I think being male it was a lot harder to talk about it to anyone because of the stigma attached, it wasn’t till I tried to take me own life that it seemed help become available, and that was far and few between as It’s taken me now 3 years since I tried to take me own life before I was diagnosed with adhd. I think personally there’s a lack of funding for mental health but the best thing I did was sit down with a stranger and open up. I’m now coping well now having a great support network I still have down days but family notice it now and will talk to me instead of the “man up” lines before hand.”
Anon- Villa Fan
I have suffered with depression for about 3 years. At my lowest I wanted to end it, and I was self harming. Men find it hard to be open about their feelings, and there is a still a stigma attached to mental health. I found my release in poetry, I find it is a way to express my feelings, anger and emotions. I am on antidepressants and have had counseling. I still have bad spells but in general I am good.
Lee Barker (@Leebarker260680)- Villa Fan
About 5 years ago I was in a really good place in my life. I’d been a year in a new job that I really enjoyed and a lot more money than my previous one. My first child was nearly 2 and we were weeks away from the birth of our son.
Out of the blue, I suddenly started getting a regular headache that lasted all day and wouldn’t go away. I went to the doctors and they thought it could be stress related. I didn’t feel overly stressed but put it down to worry over the birth of my son coming up as my wife had a very difficult labour with our daughter.
The symptoms started to get worse and at work I had an extremely funny turn when I just lost all my energy and thought I was going to pass out. I’d never felt anywhere near as ill before in my life and I had to go home and then start my paternity leave earlier than planned.
I still wasn’t great when my son was born but managed to be there at the birth and it all went well.
After this my health started to get worse and worse. I developed double vision, fatigue and weakness throughout my whole body, pariticularly my left side. I looked up the symptoms and some of the possibilities were not good at all.
If I wasn’t stressed before, I sure was now. I started to lose some control of my face at times, the left side would completely freeze up with no feeling and I thought I was having a stroke.
I went to A&E as I felt awful. At some point during the illness they kept me in a couple of times and I had CAT scans and MRI of my head which, fortunately, all came back as normal. Well, at first they said ‘we have found nothing’ which was even worse than I thought but not entirely a surprise to those that know me!
The illness had caused a severe depression to take hold of me and I was referred for counselling by my GP. I also was paying for private sessions just to help me get through this and they really helped me to believe that I wasn’t dying (I honestly thought I had a brain tumour from my symptoms) and helped me to get through the days a little better. I even phoned the Samaritans one night as I felt as if I could just end it all there as I felt so ill with no hope of improvement. The lady wasn’t much help but just having someone there to talk to helped me calm down a bit and keep going.
I was at my wits’ end as I wasn’t getting any better and they just couldn’t find out what it was. I switched doctors as the one I was at just seemed to give up on investigating it further. It was then when the new doctor found that I had a low level of Vitamin D (my old doctors had told me it was normal but they weren’t uptodate with the current guidelines).
I’d been given medication for migraines (which I never thought it was just that so hadn’t taken) and I began to give them a try as the doctor had said at least they will give you a good sleep.
My health gradually improved with the supplements and medications I was taking. It still isn’t great now but I’m back at work and still fighting on. It’s still frustrating at times as I can’t do all that I used to but the counselling I had helped me to look at the positives rather than dwell on the negatives. Unfortunately, for friends and family, I’m back to my usual personality of piss taking and annoying jokes but at least I think they are funny again!
I guess what I’d take from it all is to just keep going as it might improve even if it seems hopeless at times.
“For me, depression can be formed from many a situation that life can put you in. For me, it was a combination of absorbing feelings, emotional thoughts and trying to do what’s right, without a thought of my own mental wellbeing. Once its full, the brain (or the sponge in this matter) cannot take any more, and ultimately, it shuts down.
There are many ways to “clear and reset,” and for me, its throwing yourself into something you love and enjoy. It can be many things, but whatever it is, immerse yourself in it, and you will be able to focus your mind away from the problems. Being physically fit doesn’t mean you will be mentally fit. It’s ok not to be okay… Look after no. 1″
Anon- Villa Fan
“It all started about 12 months ago, nothing massive, just every day stuff, work life was extremely stressful, marriage stressful, 2 year old (my world) but a terror. It’s hard to pin point exactly where and when but one day I had a really really bad day at work, went home in a mood and had an arguement with my wife, this continued to be the trend for a while. One day on my way to work I was driving down the motorway still not happy, I contemplated deliberately smashing my car into a bridge, the thoughts got worse and worse, my only release was going out drinking and pretending to be happy with my mates. Whenever I was at home I was grumpy (it wasn’t my wife or son, it was me).
This went on for a while. I tried to talk to my wife many times and explain what was going on in my head, I couldn’t find the right words and we ended up arguing out of sheer frustration. I had to get out the house, I put on a pair of trainers, got my headphones and went for a run. Let me stress, I’ve never ran before, but I did that day, and it saved my life. It cleared my head, helped me find the words I needed to share with people about my personal struggles, helped me explain that it wasn’t them or their fault. I went to work, explained to my boss, he gave me 2 weeks paid leave to help me get sorted and when I got back I had an all expenses paid trip to Manchester to do a Mental Health First Aid Course, which again helped me understand better. It has put me in a position now where I’m able to help people, spot little signs, be confident to stand and speak about it with other strugglers. I am a member now of a running club in Sutton Coldfield, I’ve completed a Half Marathon in Spain, many many 10k races and I’ve lost count of the 5k races, above all that I’ve made some amazing friends for life.
Yes the majority of us will struggle, we will think nobody understands or cares when it couldn’t be further from the truth. Mental health isn’t something that gets cured instantly, it’s a process, we all have bad days, including me. We have to learn to talk to each other in order to help each other.
Like I said, I’m a Mental Health First Aider now and I’m happy to chat to anyone any time, just drop me a DM.”
Rich Bayliss (@bayliss_rich)- Mental Health First Aider and Birmingham City Fan
From the sheer number of messages I have received in relation to mental health in the week since opening up, I have realised that far from being alone, I am amongst a huge number of “ordinary” people, just like me, who have their own struggles. There are still taboos around mental health, especially amongst men and in football, but this is clearly ill-founded. If you are struggling, its important to remember that there are so many others out there who feel just like you. There is a support network just waiting to be found, and to find them, the first step is to open up.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to contribute. Opening up about your struggles, anonymously or otherwise, is incredibly difficult. I would also like to thank you for talking to me about your experiences, as this has really helped me personally knowing there are others out there feeling similar, as well as hopefully helping others. This is only a handful of those who I have spoken to, and if I get enough messages in the future, I will post about this topic again. I appreciate the fact that, especially for those wishing to remain anonymous on the blog, it is incredibly difficult to discuss such personal matters with a stranger.
Lets spread awareness and break the stigma surrounding mental health. Its ok not to be ok.
Thank you also to anyone who has sent me a message this week, whether to make sure I’m ok, or even just talk general Twitter rubbish. It all helps.
My DMs are always open, @Tomc2312_AVFC, if anyone reads this and wants someone to talk to. I can also guarantee there are hundreds more willing to do the same.
If you care about the issues raised, please help spread awareness by sharing this.
Donate to Mind, the Mental Health Charity, at www.mind.org.uk/donate
If You’re Struggling, you can:
Call Samaritans on 116 123
Call CALM at 0800 58 58 58