Men, mental health and match days – it’s time to unite

I was recently inspired by a man named Stephen Gillatt. He struck me with his astonishing bravery to open up about his mental health. Particularly when he said he’d been crying. I can honestly say I’ve never seen a man admit to that on social media before… and in a non-harsh way, it was the best thing I read that day.

I spent the rest of the day thinking about this tweet and thought, I need to get in touch with this man. I asked if he would be interested in writing a piece for my blog, and I was overjoyed when he agreed.

So here is the incredible Stephen Gillatt’s post about men’s mental health as a football supporter.

It’s time to unite on mental health the way we do on football.

As men, many of us are united by our love for the beautiful game (yes, I know women are too, please don’t throw your laptop out the window). Even if the support of the national side still divides us… the club versus country debate will always rage! 

But we’re also united by our mental health and mental health problems. We live with them. Know people who do. Have a partner who does. And the impact they can have on absolutely everyone around that person, but more importantly, the person themselves.

Men are proud, right? Stubborn. We want to be the provider, however old-fashioned that is.

Men are proud, right? Stubborn. We want to be the provider, however old-fashioned that is. I know a few lovely people from Leeds and Newcastle. And I know how fiercely proud they are of their industrial history (albeit they are one hundred miles apart).

Back from when mining dominated the industrial landscape to the present day. I also see how proud Newcastle is of its football team. One city of 268,000 people, supporting and loving one huge club. The rest of the country can see how the club is the focal point of the community.

Currently, the North East has some of the highest unemployment in the country

A stadium sold out every week, without fail. Despite ownership and other issues. Passionate fans giving unconditional love. Every. Single. Week. This and Newcastle Brown of course! It might sound stereotypical, but it’s everywhere; and part of our social history. I’ve been partial to the odd bottle myself from time to time and can confirm it’s a tasty beverage.

This all ties in. Currently, the North East has some of the highest unemployment in the country; Tyne and Wear with 5.9%, against 5.2% across the whole North East. And in 2017 there were 101 suicides in Tyne and Wear, with 21 in Newcastle. Whether we like it or not, money and employment have an undeniable impact on our self-image, self-worth and self-esteem. Our day-to-day happiness. And the life-or-death decisions people sometimes make. Heavy right? You bet. Necessary to talk about? Absolutely. 

This must change. Maybe your match day routine could too?

Football is something we all talk about, and even argue about, all the time. Jobs and unemployment are huge issues that some talk about, and some ignore. Our mental health is something that still, even in our so-called modern day, progressive society, nowhere near enough people talk about. This must change. Maybe your match day routine could too?

What do we talk about down the local? Me? It used to be the last game, next game, injuries, suspensions, league position, transfers, management, ownership, club direction. Recent nights out, drunken stories, racing (loads of people enjoy a flutter), all that sort of stuff. Washed down by beer, maybe accompanied by pool or darts. But then, did I, and more importantly, do you, know what’s really going on with your mates? Maybe who you’ve grown up with, might now work with, or be neighbours with? How they really are?

For years, I didn’t. And they certainly didn’t have clue what was going on in my heart, mind and soul. Then the ‘how are you?’ question. Most people just say ‘Yeah fine’ or ‘Nothing a few beers won’t cure mate.’ Stop right there…Neither of those two are acceptable. And to be honest, ‘okay’ is just as bad. They’re robotic and meaningless. But we use them – I used them, for decades. Even though I was in so much pain, and had a secret life consumed and controlled by what was recently considered bipolar type I (I’m still waiting for a confirmed medical diagnosis). 

When I greet my mates now, most of the time it’s with a man-hug.

My writing is raw, uncompromising, and asks questions. And here’s one for you… Would you want your partner, family member or friend to suffer in silence because they didn’t feel comfortable? Or were in an environment where they could not talk about their emotions and true feelings? Would you want to go through this? Are you going through this right now? Of course you wouldn’t.

We might be men, but we love the people around us. And yeah, you can use that word. Say it out loud. When I greet my mates now, most of the time it’s with a man-hug. And I mean them. Every time. No shame.

Bulletproof, unflappable, impervious to pain, the family rock… but even rocks crack. 

In some cases, people might just walk around like they have got the hump for a few days. But it could also be affecting their marriages and civil partnerships. Their eating and sleeping. Or in more extreme circumstances, they might be hurting themselves, considering suicide, or may have even tried to end things. That was me. All three. And nobody had a clue. When it all came out after my breakdown? People around me were so upset because they felt they’d let me down because I felt I couldn’t talk to them. But the fact was, and still is, it’s a much, much bigger thing than that. It’s how men, how we, see ourselves in society, and how society still views us. Bulletproof, unflappable, impervious to pain, the family rock… but even rocks crack. 

I still love football. But now when I meet my mates, we often go to quieter places. So, we can talk about our lives, and how we are. Not for the whole night! But just for a little while. Just to check in. See how we’re doing, how things are going. 

I truly think a lot of men have no idea about self-care.

At first it was weird because it was different. Now it’s comfortable, it’s open. Nothing is off limits. We’ll talk about anything, and I never dodge a question especially if someone is worried about me. It doesn’t need to be much. Just talking to one or two people close to you will, without doubt, help people around you. And if you are experiencing mental health issues, it could be the first and most important step towards getting the professional help you’ll need. 

I truly think a lot of men have no idea about self-care. Taking time for yourself, proper time. Not just a couple of hours of beer before a game. Taking a few minutes every day to just take stock, think things through and map things out. Being a little bit selfish – and yes, you can be selfish! And hobbies. Everyone should try and have another one away from football, that offers some relaxation.

I love football, but relaxing is a word I will never, ever associate with watching games or supporting a club! For me it’s fishing. You just cannot beat the peace and tranquillity of a river or lake. 

Three years ago, I started writing a diary, to help me process everything. Even though I was slowly dealing with my illness and trying to get better I kept an enormous amount bottled up. But for ten minutes a day, I wrote everything down. For a whole year. At all times of day or night, however I felt – sober, drunk, grieving, through the birth of my second child, everything.

After a few months, I talked to a couple of close friends who read some and said I should turn it into a book. Today, I’m about six weeks from the publication of ‘Mad, Sad, Dysfunction Dad’. I just want to try and do something, anything, to show men that is okay to be vulnerable, sad, scared, lonely and afraid. But even more importantly, that it’s okay to talk about how you feel. And that people will listen and take you seriously.

Writing a diary is something I would recommend to anyone. At the beginning especially, writing can be so much easier than talking. Try it, even for just one week. See how it feels, how it makes you feel. You never know, it might change your life. 

Football used to be the be all and end all. But I finally realised that me and my mental health was, is and always will be, even more important. And it’s the same for you. 

It’s time to talk.

Talking changes lives.

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