Talking off the pitch with The Changing Room

One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health condition in a year. Mental health conditions can be debilitating and isolating, with more men struggling in silence. Now two Scottish football teams are going into the changing room with one main goal: to promote men’s mental health.

Men are two-and-a-half times more likely to die by suicide in Scotland. Across the UK, 84 men die by suicide each week – that’s one man every two hours.

The time for change is now, and The Changing Room is one initiative looking to encourage men to speak out in order to break down stigma and reduce the number of deaths.

Using football to bring men together, The Changing Room – in partnership with the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH), SPFL Trust and funded by the Movember Foundation – is going off the pitch and behind the scenes at two prominent stadiums in Edinburgh.

OPENNESS 

“Men aren’t great at talking about how they feel, and we know that talking is one of the first steps to better mental health,” emphasises Christopher Nicolson, The Changing Room project manager.

“We need men to open up in environments they feel comfortable in, and to people they can relate to. The Changing Room is using football to bring men together to have a laugh and some banter, but also to get what’s really bothering them off their chests.”

Based in Tynecastle Park – the home of Heart of Midlothian Football Club – and Easter Road – Hibernian Football Club’s stadium – The Changing Room is a free, 12-week course, which runs sessions at both locations. Sessions include walking football, guest motivational speakers, drop-in sessions for new and existing members, and mental health awareness gatherings.

There are many initiatives working to change how people think and act about mental health problems, having a network of non-judgemental support is an imperative step in the right direction – especially when it comes to living with the sometimes debilitating aspects of mental health conditions. 

NETWORK

Christopher continues: “The Changing Room provides men with a strong support network in a welcoming and comfortable environment – men who otherwise might not talk about their feelings, or have anywhere to turn when they’re struggling.”

And for Bryan, The Changing Room at Hearts Football Club has been a saving point on more than one occasion.

As a lifelong Hearts supporter, Bryan was initially apprehensive about sharing his thoughts and feelings with a group of strangers, but due to the safe, recognisable environment, Bryan and his peers soon started talking.

“At the time Hearts weren’t doing that well and it was great for everyone to be able to have a bit of a moan about that first – it was a real icebreaker,” remembers Bryan.

“After a while everyone started opening up and talking, and it felt like it was a safe environment.

“It’s great that the programme takes place at the stadium as it’s a place of meaning to Hearts supporters. Getting along to sessions is easier as we already have that connection to the stadium,” adds Bryan.

“Tynecastle Park is my escape on a Saturday, and it’s became a home for me in the week as well.”

BREAKING BARRIERS

Having lived and struggled with depression on and off for several years, Bryan had never sought help for it until participating in The Changing Room.

With figures highlighting the impact depression or suicidal thoughts can have on men – suicide is the biggest killer of men aged 45 and under – having more establishments and initiatives such as The Changing Room can quite literally save lives. 

“Earlier this year I hit another low point and made another plan to end my life,” says Bryan openly. “But when I remembered that I had arranged to see the lads from The Changing Room that night, I turned the car around and went to see them instead. I told them what I had nearly done, and although they were shocked, they were all very supportive.

“I still have my good and bad days, but now I have a network of people I can turn to if I’m having a tough time and a ‘toolbox’ of techniques to help

me cope with difficult times,” Bryan continues. “Getting outside and taking a walk helps and I’ve now got two dogs who are like therapy for me. Taking up yoga (which is something I never would have considered in the past) has been fantastic for both my physical and mental health.”

HELPING HAND

There are many methods in place to ensure people are supported with their mental health.

For Bryan, and his peers at both Hearts and Hibs, utilising the fact there is a supportive network alongside the training courses and sessions is key. However, there is still a distinct need to encourage people to speak out.

Men are less likely to ask for help, and for others, such as people living with a learning disability, it can be hard to find the right support or guidance.

That is why initiatives such as The Changing Room are so important and vital – having a community on hand to turn to when times are tough is a step in the right direction for vital guidance and breaking barriers.

For anyone struggling to open up, Bryan fervently advises: “Getting support does take a massive weight off your shoulders. It is also a massive step for anyone to make and when you do, you should be proud for doing so.”

Head to The Changing Room (HMFC and HFC), SAMH and CALM for support.