Male mental health stigma is a problem in Scotland. In 2018, the probable suicide rate for males was three times that for females. The group identified as most at risk were men aged between 35-44.
It can be a challenge for men to talk about their mental health. The old façade of ‘boys don’t cry’ is still present for many, despite the current trends. Of the 784 probable suicides in Scotland in 2018, 581 were males.
The Changing Room is aiming to make a difference to that, and football is its tool for this. The SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) programme aims to “harness the power of Scottish football to challenge attitudes, influence help-seeking behaviours and save lives”.
It was first introduced at Hibs in April 2018 before across the city at Hearts the following October. Project manager Christopher Nicolson explained to NTOF how The Changing Room came to be: “Our project works in partnership with the SPFL Trust. We started at Hibernian and the The Big Hearts Community Trust. We’ve been working in partnership with these organisations and we’re funded by the Movember Foundation.
“We use the power of football to reach men in their middle years, 30-64. The idea is we use our football to engage with them and offer support on mental health.
“We have a 12-week programme where we use different aspects of football, all done within the football stadiums, to have conversations about mental health.”
“The environment is so important and it’s one of the things that draws men into the project. They feel comfortable at their football club. If you’re a Hibs fan, it’s a place that you like to come and you know you’re going to meet other guys that are similar-minded. If you don’t want to talk about mental health, you can talk about football, and for most guys that’s an easy thing. We recognise football has a reach that will draw people. It builds conversations where guys can not be judged and feel comfortable.”
Lockdown has meant that the project has had to be adapted. On a course heavily reliant on social interaction, it’s been far from ideal to have no access to stadia for months. The issue of mental health hasn’t evaporated during the pandemic.
“The obvious challenge is a programme that works from football stadiums,” Christopher explained. “The environment plays such a key factor. We have taken to Zoom calls as a way of engaging and give the guys who have been involved in the project to date a chance to connect and have a laugh.
“We do recognise that you can’t beat the face-to-face interaction. There’s nothing better than walking into your home ground and having a chat with guys there. We have taken the virtual route and we have used this time for planning.”
And they have big plans to make big changes too. Many clubs across Scotland have taken to their platforms and other avenues to promote mental health cause, Motherwell for one announcing that that they will wear Suicide Prevention North Lanarkshire messages on their sleeves this season.
Almost one person every week dies by suicide in North Lanarkshire.
We want to help save lives and tackle suicide in our local communities.
— Motherwell FC (@MotherwellFC) July 31, 2020
The Changing Room has been a difference maker embraced by both clubs in the capital, and now they want to take it across the country: “We worked with Hibs and Hearts in the first years of the project, but we’ve been funded to now grow and engage with other football clubs in Scotland. We want to grow and expand.
“We want to make it a bigger thing so more people can get support they might need. The clubs have been really good partners in terms of giving us access to the stadium. When we promote the project, a lot of it goes through the club’s social media channels.
“They’ve got the reach that’s maybe hard for us to get. They’ve been brilliant and allowed us to deliver our sessions and nothing’s been too big a challenge for them. They know how important it is to support community projects like ourselves.
“They’ve let us do our best and I’m delighted to say we’ve had really good feedback from the guys who have come onto the course. “
For more information on The Changing Room, visit www.samh.org.uk or follow @SAMHTweets on Twitter. More information of The Changing Room at Hibs can be found at http://hibs.thechangingroom.org.uk/