The Football Led Mental Health Group

We’ve been hearing about mental health issues in the media for years, but we’re still not doing enough to make a difference. The problem is, we don’t know what to do about it. This is why we’ve decided to form a charity that can help to improve the lives of those suffering from mental health issues, and in turn, help to improve the lives of their families and friends too.

Meet Talking Cherries: The football-led mental health group forged upon a love for Bournemouth

A football-led mental health group was formed around a love of the Bournemouth Football Club. It’s an extremely tribal group, with a motto ‘We look after our own and a mission to tackle a prevalent issue in society: Mental Health. Share the story behind this unique project with us here.

Everybody has them. Everybody has moments. But I think, fundamentally, the thing that anyone wants is to feel confident enough to talk to someone.” The stigma attached to mental health in society and particularly in sports has been an existential issue.

However, in recent years, the misplaced shame some people have felt is beginning to be understood. But it is still a novel perspective, though one that is growing.

While there is no one-size-fits-all technique, there is increasing education about it. Soccer, long viewed through an overt machismo lens, has been recognized to be one of the forebears in helping to shift the narrative.

But in a sport that tends to attract more men than women, with suicide rates far higher in men, speaking honestly about their own emotions and the experiences they have gone through in football has been difficult for many. Some initiatives are now trying to change that perception.

AFC Bournemouth is a mental health group that uses the bond forged by mutual love as a pathway to get people to talk about their struggles and seek help. In 2019, lifelong Cherries fan Peter Humphrey tragically passed away following a continuous battle with his mental health.

Kay wonders if football, specifically Bournemouth, could be a tool to generate conversation about mental health. She reached out to Peter’s partner, Hannah, about the idea.

He then discussed how to drive the initiative forward with his friends and fellow football fans. “Football is tribal, and you look after each other,” he said. “You can’t always talk to a member of your family. You can’t always talk to your best mate since you were at school.

My mates and family know how much I love football, so they didn’t notice when I started to get frustrated and start getting depressed. I talked to my mates and asked them if they had any advice, and one of the first people I spoke to was Damien (Hill), who is part of our core team. They thought it was strange that I started speaking to them, but then we started having conversations about how I was feeling, and I managed to get out and talk about football again quite quickly.

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I was at one of my first away games and I saw a lad who caught my eye. Before I came, he had been there, but I hadn’t really seen him.

When I began working at Talking Cherries, I was keen to talk to some of the girls about their personal journeys. It was them who I first had the conversations with about their own personal journeys, whether that was gambling and all the rest of it, like bullying or losing someone to suicide. One of the topics mentioned was how their aim was to get some fans trained in mental health first aid.

“I was already a first-aider so I reached out to Simon to say I knew somebody who delivered the course if he needed a contact. Simon responded by asking if I wanted to become involved and it all followed on from there.

It’s not always the best idea to jump straight into social media, however, if you can be flexible with your approach, it can certainly be useful in terms of helping build your reputation online. There’s a whole community of fans who are really friendly and welcoming, and who’ll be more than happy to help newbies get started. Plus, there are many mental health-trained supporters on Twitter, so there’s always someone to chat to.

The most exciting thing about social media is that everyone, no matter their age or background, is able to hop on and check-in with one another. Social media has made it so easy to connect with one another, which has led to lots of interesting conversations.

There’s no better way to cheer your team on than to get the whole nation doing it. This Zoom chat has a relaxed social feel for people to connect with others from the same town and talk about football, of course, the Cherries.

In late December, they were joined by Premier League referee Chris Kavanagh, who discussed the psychological burden that comes with being a top-flight official. “We’re now starting to cross over into other issues that connect mental health in football,” says Simon.

It’s a good idea to add that being mental health first aid trained doesn’t make you qualified but just gives you more knowledge and insights, leading you to be able to offer support, listen and chat. Our main objective is if we feel it’s relevant to signpost and encourage anyone reaching out to us to seek more specialist or qualified help.

On a sunny day last summer, my dad went to take part in a live Q+A with Simon Francis at a sports center. It was a good-natured fun session with a few laughs, some very light-hearted jokes, some nice memories, and a quiz.

At times the questions were lighthearted, but there were reminders as to why we were there. Francis admitted that he had personal experiences on his journey with mental health, and at times he touched on it. “The club would like to have a fan there and ask them some questions about their journey, so you begin to hear from a fan’s perspective on mental health.

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The podcast, when it comes out, will be called Mental Health Matters and it is going to be about all things mental health, from the BU connection with football, to what we are doing at the moment at Bournemouth University to how football and mental health intersect, and how journalism is the perfect platform for getting the word out.

“Hopefully, these videos will continue to grow and provide another way for fans to reach out for support, if they need to, within a safe environment. In the end, Talking Cherries is not a foundation nor a charity. We have known our current limitations and what we can personally assist with. The videos do not represent the thoughts or opinions of any individual, organization, or business involved in the creation, development, operation, or production of this work.

While Simon admits that becoming a charity is “not necessarily” a goal, there are future targets. One aspiration is to have at least one person trained in every stand of the Vitality Stadium, and most pertinently, though, is for knowing help to be accessible enough for the everyday fan.

The next steps might involve signposting technique. Simon likens it to baseball, where the first base is talking, then to two to three to four as you create a pathway for supporters to find you. You know, the conversation might not be as open as you’d like, but if you’re getting started and not feeling overwhelmed, there’s still a lot to explore, learn, and grow from.

“It’s about how football as an industry is about to become a major player in terms of how it can influence mental health initiatives,” Simon explains. “I think that when you talk to the majority of fans, the fact that its fluid, and it’s natural, and it just happens, is part of what we think the fans’ appeal is of it.” Simon has also attended calls with members of other clubs and slowly there are other official club trusts.

They’ve had a huge amount of feedback and they’re looking for ideas on how to take that further. The club will be coming to the fans for ideas in October, so it’s an opportunity for them to hear what fans want.

If someone came up to you and said, ‘you know what? I love what you’re doing, here’s some money, why don’t you do some lottery-funded initiatives, etc, etc.’, that’s a big question and we’re not there yet. Of course, similarly to understanding mental health, Talking Cherries is in its nascent stages.

As our world continues to become ever-more interconnected, people of all cultures, faiths, and backgrounds are becoming one. We have a lot to learn from each other, and we owe it to ourselves to keep open our minds and ears. This is an exciting time to live, let alone work.

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Embracing conversation is the basic purpose. Sammi concludes: “Being a mental health initiative, means some are hesitant to put themselves out there, especially if they are feeling a little vulnerable. But my aim is that we continue to grow for more people to hear about us and realize our purpose.

“Hopefully, then more people will reach out to us if they need to.” As a group of friends, we’re excited to help AFC Bournemouth and have started doing influential work within our local community, and perhaps, beyond. We love AFC Bournemouth and are fans.

We don’t care how much money you’re losing right now. We just want to be there when the next dip happens. We hope that because Talking Cherries exists, we can catch those people before they become too down.

FAQ:

1. What is the Football Led Mental Health Group?

The Football Led Mental Health Group (FLMHG) is a support group for football players who have suffered from mental illness. We are based in the UK but we also have groups in the US.

2. How can I get involved with the FLMHG?

There are two ways to join the group.

3. How do I join a group in the US?

There is no centralized group in the US, but if you want to join one of our groups.

4. What is the FLMHG’s mission?

Our mission is to be a global movement for football players who have been affected by mental illness.

5. What does the FLMHG do?

The FLMHG is a non-profit organization and we provide support for football players who have suffered from mental illness. We also offer information about mental illness and ways to get help.

6. What kind of help does the FLMHG offer?

We provide support to football players in their recovery from mental illness. We also offer information about mental illness and ways to get help.

7. What is the Football Led Mental Health Group’s goal?

Our goal is to help football players suffering from mental illness. We want to make a difference and change the way football is played.

8. How can I get help?

If you are worried about your mental health or if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, then the FLMHG is here to help you. We can give you advice on how to get help, whether that be through a professional or through your club.

In conclusion, the charity was founded by a group of friends, all of whom have suffered from mental health issues themselves, and want to help other people do the same. They believe that people can be helped and that there is no shame in admitting that you need help.

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