BBC One devoted fifty minutes of its schedule on Sunday evening after the 10 O’Clock News to a programme featuring several well known footballers talking. Nothing new there, you would think. Except this time, it was of real importance, as they opened up a conversation that has long been needed in such a primetime slot.
‘A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health’ was the culmination of a week’s long worth of programming for Mental Health Awareness Week. Presented by BBC Breakfast host Dan Walker, it gathered together HRH Prince William, and five well known faces from the world of football: Peter Crouch, Thierry Henry, Jermaine Jenas, Danny Rose and captain of the current England team, Gareth Southgate.
Having spoken on this blog last year about my own experience with anxiety, and as a keen advocate of other men talking about this and getting help if they are struggling, I was interested to see this show. Because sadly, more than ever, it’s needed.
A statistics report published by The Samaritans in November last year found that whilst the rate is falling year on year, the number of men under the age of 44 in the UK who took their own lives in 2017 was 4,382. That’s an average of 12 per day.
Factor in the well documented and terribly sad cases of men like The Prodigy frontman Keith Flint and Mike Thalassatis, and it’s clear that we’ve got a long way to go yet to changing the conversation around men’s mental health to a positive one, and one that is taken as seriously as it deserves to be.
‘A Royal Team Talk’ is such a breakthrough in that respect. Most young men my age, maybe younger, are probably looking at footballers, playing for their favourite club or maybe even the country, or other figures in the public eye, and yet underneath their lifestyle, status, pay packet and platform, they are just as affected by mental health issues as others are.
Their experiences all differed whilst sharing something in common. Danny Rose for instance, talked about how his well documented depression arose from being forced out of playing for several games by an injury he had sustained. Peter Crouch spoke about his anxiety tying in with his struggles with body image from his teenage years, and Thierry Henry spoke of how alone he felt dealing with the backlash to the ‘handball’ incident when France played the Republic of Ireland during a World Cup qualifier game in 2009.
Prince William spoke so eloquently about how being bereaved from the loss of his mum, Princess Diana, at a young age affected his mental well being – compounded by him being in the public eye – and how he has coped with the emotional toll that subsequently working in the air ambulance has had on him.
Gareth Southgate speaking about his own difficulty to cope with the backlash that surrounded his missed penalty for England at the semi final of Euro 96 was an eye opener, because of what he has channeled from that experience into his subsequent career as a coach. Chiefly, to ensure the England players are focussing on their strength, and not to burden themselves or overshadow themselves by professional or personal mistakes when they happen and let them become a bigger problem than they really are.
The second half of the show was given over to four football fans, all with differing but equally common experiences with anxiety, depression, self esteem, bereavement or coping with significant life changes, who played a five-a-side match with the panel at the grounds of Cambridge United F.C. Seeing them all talk about their experiences, heart to heart, brother to brother, was really powerful and moving.
There are still some men who are finding it difficult to speak up or let someone know that things aren’t OK. But really it starts with things like this, things like this in the mainstream media that are changing the conversation to an open and honest one. And really, this doesn’t just apply to men my age.
I’m strongly of the belief that a show like ‘A Royal Team Talk’ should be shown to the next generations of men coming up, in schools and colleges and universities, or even those under apprenticeship. And the sooner the better.
The team involved at the BBC should be commended for putting together this sensitive but honest and open look at addressing mental health in men. Here’s hoping that this has had the desired positive effect and saved many lives in the process.
‘A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health’ is available for UK viewers to watch again on BBC iPlayer.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this blog post, there are organisations you can turn to who can offer help and support. Below is a list with links to these:
- Time to Change (www.time-to-change.org.uk)
- Mind (www.mind.org.uk)
- NHS UK – includes some useful helplines (www.nhs.uk)
- Mental Health Foundation (www.mentalhealth.org.uk)
- Samaritans (www.samaritans.org)
Additionally, for those of my readers and followers who live locally to me in Essex, there is a new walking group that has been started, called Walk & Talk 4 Men. This is a monthly meetup arranged by James Mace, a barber and local lad which offers men of all ages a chance to walk together and talk about any problems they might have, or just to offer an ear and support for somebody who might be struggling. The next meetup is this Sunday, 26th May at 10:45am at Hylands Park, Chelmsford. For more information, please visit their group on Facebook or follow their Instagram page. Thank you.