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supporting mental health in football

I'm very proud to be involved professionally in this brand new initiative, launched at Hampden Park, Glasgow at the end of August. A colleague within the initiative, Dr John MacLean (pictured above), spearheaded the launch. John is the Scotland team doctor, and a vastly experienced sports medic.

The 'Support in Sport' programme for professional football in Scotland has been in development for over a year. It has been an amazing opportunity for me to work alongside a dedicated and hugely experienced team in building much-needed service provision. There are too many tragic stories in football, and in sport at large, and it is my sincere hope that this programme goes someway to preventing examples of those from happening in the future.

Professional football presents unique challenges to individuals when they make it a career choice, which are somewhat different to those that I have seen, worked alongside and am familiar with in other sports. Pressure, stress and expectation are, of course, routine, but how individuals are set up and encouraged to cope with those can vary tremendously. Working closely with professional footballers has been a privilege, and also an eye-opener.

The press release is below.

Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager Richie Foran helped launch Support Within Sport at Hamden Park on August 30th, an initiative led by the national game to identify and treat mental health issues among players and coaches.

While the the physical risks associated with professional sport are well-known, there has until now been less understanding of the incidence and impact of mental health issues on players and their families.

In 2015, Hampden Sports Clinic, supported by the Scottish FA and PFA Scotland, secured UEFA grant funding for researcher Dr Katy Stewart to investigate the incidence of mental health issues in male players across the 42 clubs in the Scottish Professional Football League.

The results confirmed significant levels of both anxiety and depression in players especially, with a number of trigger factors identified.

- More than 600 responses were received from players across the SPFL clubs

- Of that number, 64% said they themselves or a team-mate had experienced a mental health issues.

- 162 of the players returned a follow-up, more in-depth questionnaire including validated indices of anxiety and depression, identifying the need for further consultation with an experienced Sport and Exercise Medicine doctor and, in some cases, referral for face-to-face support and treatment.

The programme have seen or spoken to all of the 40 players identified to have a significant issue and referred 15 for more intensive treatment.

Richie, who experienced serious injury in the latter stages of his playing career in the Highlands, as well as the new-found pressures of management, has volunteered his support to the programme and has since ensured his Inverness squad completed the survey.

Hampden Sports Clinic has secured funding thanks to William Hill, as part of their Charitable Foundation, to put in place a programme to identify those players most at risk of a mental health issue or problems with alcohol or gambling and provide quick access to a specialist support network of experienced doctors, counsellors and psychologists.

The programme will be offered free of charge to clubs, players and coaches – and will also be available to the players, coaches and backroom staff in the Scottish Women’s Premier League.

Dr John MacLean, Hampden Sports Clinic Chief Executive and Scottish FA’s Medical Consultant: “The importance of the need to provide mental health support has been highlighted by the significant number of recent tragic cases within football in Scotland and abroad. As a result the focus has turned to not only what can be done to help prevent similar tragedies occurring but what action can be taken to support the general mental wellbeing of those who take part in sport.

“I believe this is an essential service for Scottish football and it is our intention to work with the current partners and other sports in future to widen-out the provision to ensure no sportsperson in Scotland suffers mental health issues in silence and without adequate support.”

An experienced Sport & Exercise Medicine doctor will seek to make contact with referred players within 24 hours of referral, provide initial support and agree a plan for the recommended intervention. The services offered range from phone advice, face to face assessment, medical support, clinical psychology and counselling. While this is a confidential service we will make contact with the player/coach’s club medical staff re further assessment and management if consent is obtained.

Fraser Wishart, PFA Scotland Chief Executive: “PFA Scotland has been addressing issues of emotional well-being for a number of years and has provided a confidential and bespoke service for any players suffering from a variety of issues from mental health to gambling.

“Although we have been providing an excellent support network on our own, we are delighted to have been working closely over the last year with Dr John MacLean and Dr Katy Stewart at the Hampden Sports Clinic, Dr Carrie McCrea and clinical psychologist Dr Simon Petrie to develop the Support within Sport initiative which will continue to ensure players get the specialised help and assistance they need as quickly as possible.

“As the players union, we will continue to raise awareness of wellbeing issues in dressing rooms across the country with the ultimate aim of de-stigmatising mental health within football.”

Dr Catherine Calderwood, Chief Medical Officer for Scotland: “It is fantastic that Scottish football is taking an active concern in mental health issues and we think this provides a powerful example to other organisations and to the general public. Scottish Government recognises mental health as a priority. Your work sets an example to organisations and particularly to young people of the importance of considering mental health. The fact that admired sports people can have mental health problems just like everyone else sets an important example for everyone and goes a long way to de-stigmatise these problems.”

Bill South, Director of Community and Security at William Hill: “The fact that 1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer a mental health issue in any year just highlights the rise of the issue society. "People involved in sport also experience a unique set of pressures and it's great that Scottish football has launched this program - an initiative we are proud to be supporting.”

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