It’s well documented that men are statistically less likely to speak about their mental health than women are.
In 2017 5,821 suicides were recorded in the UK, with 76% of these being male victims. It’s the biggest cause of death amongst 20-34 years old and it is considerably higher in men. Three times as many men will become victims of suicide than women. The stereotype of ‘boys don’t cry’ has led to many males across the country suffering alone.
It’s a harrowing fact that many males don’t reach out until it’s too late. More has to be done to let people know it’s okay not to be okay and this mentality has to be ingrained into society.
Clubs across the Scottish footballing landscape have made an effort to bring awareness to male mental health. One of the leading clubs for this in Scotland is Motherwell, who have a range of mental health partners associated with the club.
It is a topic that touches them deeply. In the past month, there have been three banners unveiled at Motherwell games to remember young men who have lost their lives to mental health problems. It is a growing epidemic in North Lanarkshire and the club tries to promote positive male mental health and the many reasons it’s okay to talk to someone about these things.
NTOF spoke with Motherwell’s former partners Breathing Space about the topic and Well Society board member Derek Watson about the issue. The club were contacted but declined to comment.
Breathing Space is a phone line service that was established in 2004 and is Scotland’s national mental health phoneline. They take 7,500 calls a month from distressed people over Scotland. No matter the problem, Breathing Space are always at the other end of the phone.
They worked closely with Motherwell in previous seasons and National Coordinator Tony McLaren lifted the lid on why it’s important they sponsor teams at various different levels.
He said: “We have worked with numerous football clubs across Scotland over the years, including Motherwell FC in the past for four seasons. It’s great to get the support from clubs and players to promote the message for fans to ‘open up when they’re feeling down’.
“We have also sponsored teams like Strathclyde University football club. That’s young men between the ages of 18-25 and they are very much connectors to our service. Junior teams like Newmains, Vale of Leven and Clydebank have also been key connectors to putting out our message throughout Scotland.
“We know a football team will not function to its full capacity if the players don’t have good mental health. That happens with your Barcelona’s and your Liverpool’s. If we can promote good mental health messages to our football team’s that can only be a good thing”.
“The tides turning”
McLaren believes that things are changing within male mental health and has noticed small improvements.
“We do see the tides turning. Given the opportunity men will talk about their feelings with people they can trust. We need to create the atmosphere where they are not going to be condemned or discriminated against.
“The PFA are really promoting it through all the clubs in Scotland. For the last 32 in the Scottish Cup last year we had all the captains having a photograph with a Breathing Space banner. That wouldn’t have happened a few years ago. For someone that is living and breathing it, you’re seeing changes everyday.”
A fan’s point of view
The Well Society are the majority shareholders in Motherwell. It’s a group of fans who all have the best interests of their club at heart.
One fan on the Well Society board is Derek Watson. Sitting in Motherwell’s East Stand on match days, Watson is one of the main voices for fans on the Society board. He also does work with Since I Was Young fanzine, a platform where Motherwell fans can put their views about the club across.
Like many Well fans, Watson has been taken aback by the male mental health problem in Lanarkshire and spoke about some of the things the fanzine has done to promote positive mental health.
He said: “We have been working closely with the Motherwell community trust and North Lanarkshire Suicide Prevention to try and provide places for young people to go and talk about mental health to reduce the stigma.
“In young males especially it’s almost seen as a bit of a weakness or defeat if you admit something is bringing you down. The sad thing is this is becoming less and less of a shock and it’s something we need work together as a community to alleviate.
“I think there’s a lot more pressure on young people because of social media. There’s almost an attitude that you need to be seen as having the best of everything and the west Scotland isn’t the most affluent area, especially not Motherwell. I think it’s a really bad situation at the moment, but it’s not an overnight fix. We need to pull together to do more for the greater good.”
What the club can do
As a board member on the Well Society, Watson knows the needs of the fans and where the club has to improve. He knows that the Society and Motherwell have to be doing more to act on mental health and have already put the wheels in motion for new initiatives.
“We are looking to do lots more alongside the football club. There’s a lot more the Well Society should be doing as we are a fan owned club. In my opinion we should be doing more to connect with the wider fanbase of the club. Over the next few months we know there’s a lot more to do. It’s certainly on the agenda for me.
“The video the club did to promote mental health was great. I think we need to be doing more of that. It needs to be constant whether that be once a week or once a month. The football club is a pillar of the community where you feel part of something.
“Motherwell are certainly leading the way in terms of community engagement in this country. There’s always room for improvement.”