One of the world's first mental health football teams has been formed to help young men open up about their thoughts and feelings.
FC Not Alone is part of the Adidas Football Collective, launched in 2020 to support local community initiatives and based on the belief that football has the power to change lives.
The collective aims to break down barriers, create opportunities and open up the game for everyone, everywhere.
Based in North-West London, the club allows people to play football in a supportive environment where communication about mental health is welcomed and encouraged.
Ian McKenzie, Co-Founder of FC Not Alone alongside his cousin Matthew Legg, aims to pay attention to the mental health of team members, initiating the conversation to relieve some of the burden that is often felt by the individual who may be struggling.
“For players, I have an open-door policy," says McKenzie. "I make it clear that I’m happy for them to WhatsApp me if they’re struggling, but I’m always quite conscious to notice behaviours and reach out.
“Football is the biggest conversational topic among men in the UK and in many countries over the world, and it is used as escapism.
"When it comes to a match day - playing or watching - you will see men being the most emotional beings they probably ever are in their life. This shows us that men are capable of having emotional connections and conversations on a daily basis."
COVID-19 restrictions meant that organised sport was suspended until March 29th, including grassroots football.
Such an inability to socialise and take part in activities has exacerbated mental health issues for much of the British public.
A report by Mind published in June 2020 showed that mental health had worsened for 60% of adults and 68% of young people during lockdown.
For young people, one of the main causes for concern linked to mental health is suicide which, according to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, was the biggest cause of death for those aged 20 to 34, from 2001 to 2018.
The same report shows that the rate of suicide in young men was three times higher than in young women.
Statistics such as these highlight the importance of organisations like FC Not Alone that provide a safe space for those struggling with their mental health to open up about their feelings and emotions.
“People might not think, ‘I’m going there to work on my mental health,’ but I think that’s a by-product of being in a football environment where you feel welcome and the coaches are nice people," adds McKenzie. "They’re empathetic, they care about you, and you know your peers are all there for a common cause.
"Naturally, a by-product is hopefully that people will feel better about themselves and make friendships because of it. That’s truly the focus of FC Not Alone with the return of grassroots football.”
Written by Alice Lynes
News reporter for Talking Mental Health
Twitter & Instagram: @alicelynes