On World Mental Health Day, the Sunderland AFC community is came together to pledge its support to challenge the stigma associated with openly talking about mental health through the launch of a new campaign which encourages fans, staff and players to look after themselves and each other.
The club’s official charity, Foundation of Light, has launched the ‘Heads First’ initiative which aims to promote positive change through a range of new initiatives and programmes.
Fans are being encouraged to be a game changer and help end the stigma around mental health by signing up to the Heads First Fans Mental Health Pledge, developed in partnership with Washington Mind. By signing the pledge, fans are committing in any way they can to:
- Support changing the negative attitudes towards mental health
- Not be afraid to start conversations with friends, family and colleagues
- Encourage those who may be struggling to seek help and support
Joining forces with Washington Mind, Foundation of Light are now able to support people to try new sports and activities to help improve both their physical and mental health. These activities will be funded by money raised through the national On Your Side charity partnership between Mind and the EFL (English Football League).
In this new phase of the programme, Mind aims to support over 120,000 people with mental health problems across the country to be more active through its work in communities and partners in the sport sector.
Get Set to Go will run throughout the season with the first 12-week course starting at the Beacon of Light on Thursday 17th October 1-3pm, and with other courses starting on evenings and weekends later in the year.
SAFC supporters’ group, Sunderland Branch Liaison Council, is also taking a pro-active role in the campaign with the launch of a Match Day Mental Health Hub, in partnership with Foundation of Light and Washington Mind. The Hub will offer a free, informal and confidential drop-in service for both home and away fans on SAFC home matchdays at the Beacon of Light.
The Hub is the first of its kind in the UK and will see qualified, experienced counsellors from Washington Mind and a trained volunteer from the Branch Liaison Council supporting fans in a relaxed and welcoming environment.
Sunderland AFC midfielder George Dobson said: "Life can be hectic and busy for all of us. At some point we will all go through difficult times, and negative emotions are a natural part of helping us get through the challenges we face.
“But for some of us, things can become more serious and we can become affected by mental health problems. Understanding what can affect our mental health can make it easier to understand when we, or someone we care about, are struggling, and helps us think about what we can do to improve things or where to get support.”
SAFC defender Joel Lynch said: “I'm really proud that our fans, our club, our Foundation, and Washington Mind are coming together to improve mental health across the North East. I am proud to sign the Heads First Mental Health Charter and encourage fans to back the campaign.
“The club plays such a key role in the lives of so many, so it is important that we support our own and let our fans know that it’s ok not to be ok. Through our registered charity, Foundation of Light, we can all work together to end the stigma around mental health, look out for each other more and help those who need support.”
Liz Barton-Jones, Foundation of Light Head of Sport and Wellbeing added: “So many people in this region struggle with anxiety, stress and depression and the aim of our Heads First campaign is to play our part in helping more people live happier and healthier lives.
“Earlier this year we raised over £30,000 to tackle mental health through our ‘Give a Quid’ campaign. Heads First is the next step in that journey as we work alongside a number of partners, including Washington Mind and Sunderland Branch Liaison Council to put meaningful measures in place to support our community.
“The Heads First Mental Health Pledge and the Mental Health Matchday Hub are fantastic and unique initiatives. Whilst we are proud that we are the first club in the UK to put these in place, I hope that others follow suit and that these initiatives are replicated across the country.”
Sunderland AFC Branch Liaison Council Secretary Cath Reid said: “We’ve worked very hard to create an environment within the Supporters’ Branches where mental health is firmly on the agenda. It is so important to us that fans support each other.
“Working with Foundation of Light and Washington Mind, we have been able to support the delivery of a number of ‘A LIFE Worth Living suicide prevention training sessions to give our members the confidence to start often difficult conversations and understand the signs that someone is struggling.
“I’m delighted that we can now provide further support to anyone attending a match through the Heads First Mental Health Matchday Hub. Our aim is to provide a relaxed and confidential environment which is away from the clinical setting of GP, hopefully encouraging more people to come forward and ask for help.”
A taster session for Get Set to Go is taking place this Sunday (13th October) 1-3pm at the Beacon of Light where people can try out activities, find out more about the programme and meet the staff with a view to taking part in the programme starting Thursday 17th October or later in the season.
To sign the Heads First Fans Mental Health Pledge, to learn more about Get Set to Go and the other initiatives available, visit www.foundationoflight.co.uk/pledge.