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Men, Football And Therapy: A Trouble Shared

11/11/2016 08:03 | Updated 11 November 2016
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"He shoots, he scores, yet another great goal!"

We've all seen it, the foot-balling hero playing a blinding game; their poetic foot work mesmerising us for 90 minutes, leaving spectators satisfied at the hard work watched.

But what if the picture's not so rosy, when players don't put the ball in the back of the net and the adulation which once motivated a player dries up. Rather than excitement for each game, they dread each match as claws of anxiety herald their arrival. Before long depression, too may appear, a black cloud shadowing every waking moment.

Watching the stars on the pitch we see the glamour of the game, throwing our praise and criticism at players; what we don't see, however, is the emotional burden some of them carry, hidden from the public eye.

Mental and emotional well-being after-all seems a closely guarded secret, still, especially by men, whether on the pitch or off. According to international player's union Fifpro, 38% of 607 players interviewed in a survey said, at some stage they'd suffered symptoms of depression and anxiety; reporting other associated problems as-well, such as; sleep disturbance, distress and adverse alcohol use.

Other sports, not just football, also reflect this, although increasing attempts now exist to address it - but how powerful would it be if our sporting heroes could show us that it's okay to talk about a problem, openly, and so maybe help remove the stigma attached to therapy as-well. If so, maybe more men would see this as a positive example, adopting the view that they too could seek counselling support.

Dealing with an issue is after all difficult, and for some people offers only one solution - suicide. It's important that as men we talk about what's troubling us, and the feeling we experience and that we rid the stigma around counselling and supportive therapies which may help us resolve issues; especially when male suicide still remains the UK's biggest single cause of death among men under 45.

Clark Carlisle, former Burnley and Leeds defender tried to end his life after suffering from depression. Commenting on this he said: "I tried to commit suicide because I was incredibly unwell, but it's changed my life because I got incredible support..."

Men suffering with anxiety and depression then need safe passage from the darkness of mental and emotional ill-health, to the support they want, just as with any kind of physical illness; and whether footballer or fan, shown it's okay to talk and be listened to without feeling a sense of shame.

This change has started in 2015 when Carlisle and Nick Clegg supported The Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation, aimed at "blowing the whistle" on mental health discrimination in sport. The Football Association, Rugby Football Union, Lawn Tennis Association and England and Wales Cricket Board being amongst the bodies to sign up to the scheme.

Rather than pressurising players to suppress their mental and emotional worries, the charter is about letting them step forward, without prejudice, to gain support. As role models to thousands of people, young and old, who better then to promote the idea that mental illness is just that, an illness, than the sporting heroes whom we look up to. It's an idea backed by Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, who said: "From the elite level down to grassroots, sport can be used to reduce stigma and encourage positive conversation about mental health...sport brings people together. "

As a counsellor, I noticed increasing numbers of male clients from sporting backgrounds, contacting me, after suffering years of emotional struggle. Ironically once their counselling journey began they realised it was okay to talk openly about what was bothering them, being listened to without fear of judgement, and in many cases regain the control in their lives that they once had.

Football is 'the glorious game', but perfect it's not, and likewise neither are its players they're human just like you and I. At times they may falter, emotionally, but instead of letting them suffer we need to admit mental health is an issue in sport, and in the world in generally. Fifpro's chief medical officer, Vincent Gouttebarge, said of their survey: "We hope this study increases awareness and commitment from all stakeholders in football to put supportive measures in place so that those suffering from mental health problems know they are not alone".

Anxiety and depression do not discriminate, whether footballer or fan; and whilst men are less likely to speak out about them, when they do let's not stigmatise their pain or desire for help, let's rather support their need, after-all there is truth in the saying that - a trouble shared is a trouble halved.

HuffPost UK is running a month-long focus around men to highlight the pressures they face around identity and to raise awareness of the epidemic of suicide. To address some of the issues at hand, Building Modern Men presents a snapshot of life for men, the difficulty in expressing emotion, the challenges of speaking out, as well as kick starting conversations around male body image, LGBT identity, male friendship and mental health.

To blog for Building Modern Men, email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com. If you would like to read our features focused around men, click here

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