An age-old inter-city rivalry is being set aside by Newcastle and Sunderland as their club’s Foundations team up to raise mental health awareness in the North East as part of a new campaign.
#BeAGameChanger will showcase Newcastle United Foundation and Sunderland AFC’s official charity, Foundation of Light’s, commitment to promoting positive mental health to thousands of supporters visiting St. James’ Park and the Stadium of Light season after season.
Figures published late last year revealed the North East has the highest male suicide rate in the country, and of all recorded suicides in the region, 75 per cent of those taking their own lives are men.
Together, the new partnership between Newcastle United Foundation and Foundation of Light sends the clear message: whether you’re in a Park or a Stadium, #BeAGameChanger and kick-off the conversation about mental health.
Funded by the North East and North Cumbria Suicide Prevention Network, Newcastle and Sunderland AFC supporters will be signposted to #BeAGameChanger information using match day LED screens, cards and social media for the remainder of the 2019/20 season.
Wellness sessions will be delivered each week in the community by both foundations, including walking football which provides an opportunity for gentle exercise with a coach, as well as a pressure-free environment to socialise with like-minded participants.
Those joining the sessions will also be signposted to a range of programmes offered by the foundations, including free over-40s NHS health checks, specific mental health sessions with MAN v FAT, 12th Man and Washington Mind’s Get Set to Go programmes.
Ashley Lowe, Health and Wellbeing Manager at Newcastle United Foundation, said: “It is incredibly powerful to see Newcastle and Sunderland fans standing side-by-side.
“Both cities are united by their love of football and we are using that passion for the two badges to start potentially life-saving conversations amongst supporters.
“Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20 to 49 and one in four fans coming to St. James’ Park and the Stadium of Light will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
“It is crucial we take meaningful action to reduce stigma, encourage men to access support and to make mental and physical wellbeing our top priority.”
Liz Barton-Jones, Head of Sport and Wellbeing at Foundation of Light, said: “The #BeAGameChanger campaign will be potentially life-changing for fans across the region.
“We are proud to be working with the Newcastle United Foundation on this fantastic project, putting football rivalries aside to encourage people to show their support for their friends and family.
“Our message is clear – no matter whether you’re a Mackem or a Geordie, look out for each other and don’t be afraid to ask the question ‘are you ok?’.”
She added: “#BeAGameChanger is just one of a number of initiatives we as a Foundation have in place to support and promote positive wellbeing.
“Supporting the SAFC supporters’ group, the Sunderland Branch Liaison Council, the UK’s first Match Day Mental Health Hub was launched in November – a free drop-in service in the Beacon of Light on match days for fans, where they can access a trained volunteers and counsellors from Washington Mind.
“We also host the NHS’ Veterans Mental Health Complex Treatment service and Northern Gambling Service in our Health and Wellbeing Zone in the Beacon of Light.
“The #BeAGameChanger campaign really complements our existing work and will help us to continue to make a real difference to local lives by signposting supporters for life-changing programmes.”
Suzanne Sleeth, Northumbria Police Suicide Prevention Coordinator, said: “National statistics show that suicide rates in the North of England are higher than anywhere else in the country.
“As such, the North East and North Cumbria Suicide Prevention Network are working with partners across the region to address this, aiming to reduce both the number of suicides and the impact on those bereaved when it does happen.
“We support the #BeAGameChanger campaign as it brings home such an important message: that we all need to talk openly about our mental health and wellbeing and look after it just as we would our physical health.”
The #BeAGameChanger mental health awareness campaign was originally launched in February 2019 to encourage Newcastle United supporters to talk about how they are really feeling and recognise when they or their loved ones are in crisis.
The #BeAGameChanger Facebook community is a growing source of comfort, advice and practical information for those experiencing mental health issues or friends and relatives supporting someone else.
In a survey conducted with more than the 860 members of the community, 70 per cent stated the #BeAGameChanger campaign has changed the way they think about mental health and 40 per cent said they had since opened-up to someone about their own mental health.