First published in CFCUK.
Any of you who have been watching Chelsea for long enough will know that it can have a profound effect on your mental health.
Chelsea has, is and always will be a roller coaster of ‘Glorious Unpredictability’ (TM Mark Worrall). A team capable of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows and quite often in the space of a few days; ‘twas ever thus!
Of course, when so much of our personal happiness is invested in the fortunes of our fickle club, it is no surprise that our mental health takes a hammering whenever Chelsea takes an ‘L’.
My old Chelsea FanCast mate ChelTel, would take Chelsea defeats particularly hard. An enforced media blackout and the sanctuary of a suitably darkened room was Tel’s tried and trusted post defeat solution. Sometimes, after a defeat, it was a major achievement to get him to turn up to do the FanCast so depressed was he!
What Tel found was that a few beers and a good chat with Chelsea mates to dissect the game or ‘work through’ it, as we say in the trade, was in fact quite cathartic.
Perhaps this, more than anything else, is the current problem with football, or more to the point the problem with not being allowed to go to the football. The whole experience of following your team is now played out in not so splendid isolation.
An unexpected or disappointing loss (I wrote this after the gutless loss to Leicester) would be washed away after a few pints in the pub post-match. Get the rage out; argue in the company of mates and soon the smiles return after you realise that all of this is beyond our control, so we might as well focus on what we can control. Have a moan, have a drink as ‘Suggs’ sang. Drowning one’s sorrows with comradeship as well as beer.
Prohibited from being in the ground and the pubs means a solitary and for Chelsea supporters this season, a desultory experience.
On your own, the defeat stays with you like a bad smell. It festers and ferments as the psychological knives twist the mental flesh via Sky’s pundits and the insanity of twitter. You find yourself drawn to it all like a moth to the flame; helpless, powerless and more despondent. There is no out; no release from the vice like grip the burdensome defeat traps you in.
And all of this is exacerbated by the COVID-19 Lockdown.
Being serious for a moment; this is a very serious issue in relation to our mental health; whether you are a football supporter or not.
We’ve been through an unprecedented time for the last 10 months. We’ve lived with the fear of a deadly disease that has taken over 90,000 lives to date. Some of us have lost friends and loved ones, others’ lives have been badly affected.
Many more of us have lost our jobs and income, due to a business collapsing or being put on ‘furlough’. With the added responsibility of caring for dependents, this is a heavy burden and additional pressure. All within the context of no realistic end in sight.
As a mental health professional, I can tell you that nearly all of us will have experienced a negative impact on our mental health at some time in our lives. Many of us have the resilience and resolve to cope; some of us are lucky enough to have a strong support network that can help us through the tough times. But the current times are very tough indeed.
No one is immune from mental health issues; we all carry some baggage. My experience is that the overwhelming anxiety, feelings of anger, loss and powerless are very likely to have exacerbated any feelings we have carried and kept a lid on for most of our lives. COVID and the Lockdown may well have been the ‘straw that has broken the Camel’s back’.
There is no shame in suffering with depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts in the best of times and there is certainly no shame in this during the current pandemic.
In this third lockdown I have to admit that I have struggled to cope mentally far more than the previous two. I have plenty of friends struggling as well.
Working as a mental health professional, I am lucky. I have a good understanding of my mental health and where it’s at and I get great support on a weekly basis. It doesn’t make me immune to the struggle but I have access to help and can recognise when I need it.
Many of you are not so fortunate. You might not realise the toll all of this is taking on you. You might not know who to turn to. Friends and family might not be the people you would like to turn to, especially if your patience with them has worn thin by sharing a confined space with them for 10 months; and indeed, their patience with you.
Sadly, there is still a stigma attached to asking for help, especially among men and arguably older men. We’ve grown up with the deeply embedded British stoicism of grin and bear it; put a brew on; tough it out. However, the reality is that suicide amongst men in the UK, is currently the largest cause of death of men aged under 45.
Don’t suffer in silence; help is available and trust me, if you feel you need it, seek it out.
Recognising the vulnerability of many football supporters at this time, several Supporters’ Trusts have partnered with their clubs to highlight mental health matters.
Everton’s Fans Forum are working in partnership with Everton in the Community to launch ‘virtual away days’ to help fans interact and keep in touch despite being unable to attend matches.
Leeds United Supporters’ Trust have a partnership with Andy’s Man Club, helping men to talk about their mental health. Newcastle United Supporters Trust held a joint mental health workshop with the NUFC Foundation.
Spirit of Shankly joined forces with the LFC Foundation, to launch The Big Red Talk, a live virtual event in support of supporter’s mental health. Sunderland’s Branch Liaison Committee joined the club’s Foundation of Light, to create the Mental Health Matchday Hub walk-in facility last season.
Our very own Chelsea Supporters’ Trust approached the Chelsea Foundation at the end of last year to propose a similar scheme to Sunderland’s. The response being that it was not something they would be supporting at this time. To say this is extremely disappointing would be an understatement.
With or without the support of the Club, the CST is determined to bring mental health issues among Chelsea supporters front and centre and to offer help in any way we can. It might take time and money to provide something in terms of a tangible, organised response, but in the interim we can at least highlight the issue and point you in the right direction.
If you are struggling with your mental health the following organisations would be a good place to start:
samaritans.org – if you’re feeling suicidal; 116 123 call any time for free
Papyrus HopelineUK – Hopeline: 0800 068 4141 Text: 07860039967 for young people under the age of 35 who are experiencing thoughts of suicide
In addition, you should talk to your GP. If you’re struggling, they can provide primary care and direct you to further help, dependent on your need, such as counselling or medication.
If you are ready to talk to a counsellor to address your issues over the longer term and you are able to afford it, then a counsellor or psychotherapist in private practice can help. Fees are usually around £50 per session and both long and short-term work can be offered, predominantly on-line currently due to COVID-19 restrictions. There are plenty of styles of talking therapy from Psychodynamic, CBT, Integrative, Person Centred, Humanistic and many more. Choose the counsellor and type of counselling that suits you best.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists can be found using the ‘Find a Therapist’ sections of organisations such as:
In the meantime, this advice for managing mental health during Lockdown might be useful, drawn from the work of believeperform.com (@believephq on twitter). They produce great graphics released via twitter to help with mental health:
- Stay in touch with friends and family
- Structure your day to enhance a sense of achievement and fun
- Focus on one thing at a time; don’t put too much pressure on your self
- Be aware of triggers – avoid the news and social media if it is negatively affecting your mood
- Stay active and try and exercise regularly
- Pay attention to self-care, find some to time to relax
- Talk to someone about how you’re feeling
- And if you’re really struggling, reach out to your GP or a mental health charity
And most important of all – TALK. To a friend, a family member, to someone you trust. Do not suffer in silence. Many of us have been there and no one is immune to mental health struggles and you’ll be surprised how amenable many people are to lending a sympathetic ear.
Chelsea Supporter’s Trust Board member & Mental Health professional