Thanks to generous donations Heads On, Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s official charity, have used NHS Charities Together funding to support men aged 30 to 50 who are struggling with their mental health by bringing them together through a shared love of football.
The More Than Football programme was developed in response to a disproportionate risk of male suicide, which has increased over the past few years as a result of the pandemic.
The programme is delivered by Brighton & Hove Albion Foundation, official charity of Brighton & Hove Albion, and uses the power of football to provide a safe space for men to discuss their feelings and any challenges they may be facing in their lives.
More Than Football aims to help prevent suicide by normalising these conversations about mental health and improve mental wellbeing by creating support networks through weekly sessions.
These sessions take place over a period of ten weeks and are run by Brighton & Hove Albion Foundation staff with full mental health training. They consist of a friendly game of footie that is accompanied by a facilitated half time and cool-down chat that help participants to feel more comfortable opening up.
Even once these ten weeks come to an end, many continue to play football together and dedicate time to these valued chats. The benefits to both their physical and mental health also mean that pressures on NHS services are reduced.
Andy struggled with his mental health during lockdown having been made redundant whilst his partner was heavily pregnant, which caused him to feel worthless. Before joining More Than Football, he was a self-proclaimed closed book, but now he understands the importance of opening up about mental health and has even gone on to lead some sessions himself.
Speaking about why the programme is so important, Andy said:
“It’s important because men don’t talk about how they feel. It’s good for men to get together and play some football and talk about how they are. I didn’t open up enough to my partner about things, so this has been really helpful. We have a WhatsApp group now where we can communicate about things as well.”
Steve joined the More Than Football programme after his daughter was diagnosed with autism and he struggled to know how to best support her.
Speaking about the difference the programme has made to him, Steve said:
“I am really pleased I did it. It’s just a good vibe. I’ve only got good things to say about it and appreciate the funding from NHS Charities Together that goes into it.
“I am so lucky to have found two groups that support my needs, one where I can talk with other dads about raising kids with special needs and another where I can chat to likeminded guys about different issues. I feel for the men who don’t have access to groups like these in their areas.”
Sean saw the programme advertised on Facebook and wanted to get involved as he had been on the lookout for support with his anxiety.
Speaking about why he joined and the impact it has had, Sean said:
“I had been looking to join something for a while as I had played football with friends I had known for years previously and enjoyed that. I also like how it’s all about getting you integrated with people again who come from similar backgrounds with mental health issues.
“I hope more people have access to programmes like this which encourages you to come together and be able to open up and share your stories. I think the programme has been fantastic and hopefully it will help a lot of people around the area.”
A spokesperson from Heads On said:
“Suicide is the leading cause of death for middle-aged men in the UK. We know that men can struggle to open up about their mental health and that’s why Heads On is proud to have supported More Than Football, which has had a profound impact on the lives of the men it has touched. The project was co-created by individuals with lived experience of mental health issues, and those from the target demographic, and we feel this is a key element to the project’s success so far. We’re really looking forward to seeing how the project continues to make a difference over the remaining funding period, and beyond.”
A spokesperson from Brighton & Hove Albion Foundation, said:
“The success of More Than Football has been so great to see. We know how much the power of football can change people’s lives and help improve wellbeing, so watching the programme gain pace and grow across the region, positively impacting so many men, is really special. We’re incredibly proud to be working alongside NHS Charities Together and Heads On and are hugely grateful of their support in funding this important programme.”
Watch the video below to learn more about More Than Football: