As part of our football feature, we contacted every club in the Premier League and asked three questions:
• What does your club do to support the mental health of your players?
• What community-based mental health initiative do you have?
• What more can be done to support mental health in football?
Here's what they had to say...
BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION
“We’re an open club with approachable staff who are committed to the holistic wellbeing of all players and staff. Our staff are encouraged to be aware of warning signs, and to know they can pass on any concerns. We offer staff the option of external counselling at times of grief or turmoil. We have invited speakers to present to staff to help them appreciate that mental health is a human condition. In terms of player monitoring, we have a daily digital check-in concerning their health and wellbeing – while all staff are provided nutritious food and information on why good nutrition is proven as important for good mental health.”
Sue Parris, Education and Life Skills Manager
“Our official charity, Albion in the Community (AITC), runs sessions and projects aimed at supporting people’s mental health and wellbeing. Three regular free football sessions take place in Brighton and Worthing. They enable participants to experience the positive benefits of playing regular sport in a pressure-free and supporting environment. The charity has held mental health awareness tournaments aimed at players from its Albion Goals programme – a series of free, weekly football sessions that support adults with a range of problems, including mental health. The sessions are delivered by AITC’s coaches with experience of working with players with mental health problems, or who require additional support to overcome barriers that may prevent them taking part in regular activity.”
Richard Morris, Albion in the Community PR and Media Manager
The Bigger Picture
“In football, mental health can become wrapped up in the concept of masculinity. It’s not ‘manly’ to admit how you feel, to talk about feelings and to admit that emotions are affecting life or performance – because being picked to play the next match, at any cost, is all that matters. A better approach is to consider what mental health looks like, what constitutes a threat to remaining mentally healthy, and what can be done to support the mental health of players in the short and long term. A commitment from all clubs [should] acknowledge they have a duty to educate and support players as much with their mental health as is currently a given in terms of physical health. At Brighton, our philosophy is about developing the person alongside the physical player and how interdependent the two are.
This requires the stigma around mental health to be addressed and understood, with an acceptance that mental health issues are a human condition, which most people within their lifetime will experience rather than it being assumed to be an abstract illness which only the weak-minded suffer from. It needs a comprehensive framework to prevent where possible, prepare as a matter of course, and support where needed.”
Sue Parris, Education and Life Skills Manager
“We take the wellbeing of all our employees extremely seriously. We employ a wide range of specialist staff and have access to independent expertise to ensure we have a broad programme of support which is tailored to individual needs. All staff have access to a confidential Employee Assistance Programme, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. At our academy, there is a holistic curriculum in place that addresses a wide range of issues. Mental health and wellbeing is taken just as seriously as performance, and it is viewed as part of the whole development of an Arsenal player. Arsenal in the Community runs programmes to support local people, too. We host weekly football sessions for people with a mental health diagnosis. The sessions take place in The Arsenal Hub, providing a safe and comfortable indoor space. We also work with local medical services who support the participants as much as possible. The Arsenal Foundation also supports a number of organisations who promote health and wellbeing. A recent donation was made to The Stress Project, a local charity who provide yoga and relaxation sessions. Our donation will provide free sessions for people with mental health diagnoses.”
The club provides comprehensive support for players’ mental health tailored to individual cases, where players are able to speak in confidence to club professionals who can offer direct provision and also enlist external support such as that provided by the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Furthermore, the club provides holistic support to those who may experience mental health issues in the community through working with a range of partner charities. This is done by either signposting people to their services or by receiving referrals to our programmes which offer support such as working with a mentor, re-engaging and learning new employment skills, and regaining confidence through initiatives such as our over 50’s Reignite programme.
In addition, we are currently working with SEAP, a mental health charity, to train a number of our staff in advocacy qualifications.”
Tottenham Hotspur spokesperson
“Our Academy players are well supported by a bespoke lifestyle programme which includes sessions with ‘If U Care, Share’ and Sporting Chance. That is led by our Head of Education & Welfare, Karen Crosland. We provide details of the PFA safety net to all our players; the subject is also covered during the player induction process. We provide contact details for local mental health services and various counsellors to players.
The players also complete a wellbeing survey every morning. Karen is on site every day for every player. She is qualified as a mental health first aider and also as a clinical hypnotherapist
We also have the support of the club chaplain, who has sessions with the players about how we support each other. We are currently in the process of expanding our charity – the Huddersfield Town Foundation. One of the club’s new roles is a full-time Head of Health and Inclusion, and one of their tasks is to seek initiatives with mental health charities and organisations.”
Huddersfield Town spokesperson
“We have a sports psychologist engaged with all players, including the academy. They flag any mental health concerns to the club. In addition, the Premier League have a mental health awareness ambassador scheme, which we will be engaging with this season. This trains staff to become more aware of risks and some early signs and symptoms of mental illness.
Our player care provision will include mental health awareness presentations to players, and signposting organisations, such as Sporting Chance. The PFA also provides of support for any mental health issues.
We have a well-established partnership with the charity ‘Mind’ in Croydon that has been in place for seven years. We deliver two weekly football coaching sessions. The first hour runs at a moderate pace for those with lower levels of mobility, and the second hour is for our more advanced players.
Two FA affiliated football teams that compete in local grassroots leagues have grown out of these sessions. We also run an annual tournament where we invite other like-minded teams to compete for the winner’s trophy, which you can read more about at palaceforlife.org.”
Crystal Palace spokesperson
WHY WE APPROACHED THE CLUBS
Following the media coverage of high profile players like Aaron Lennon and Steven Caulker, Happiful wanted to know more about the kinds of psychological support that exist within the English Premier League. We approached all 20 top-flight clubs and asked them three simple questions. Each were given a week to reply.
We received answers from only five clubs, or 25% of the Premier League.
We remain convinced that mental health issues are treated very seriously by all football clubs, and yet silence from so many Premier League powerhouses raises more questions than answers.