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Using football to tackle mental health

Posted by Alex Heron, 7 months ago

3 min read

After losing two friends to suicide, Matty Slinger of our gender network Allied Men group and driver of the ‘Moray Rambler’ mobile branch for Retail Banking in the Scottish Highlands, is taking action.

Five years ago, Matty remembers hearing the news that his friend Charlie had died. “I then learned he’d taken his own life,” he says. “None of it made sense. It was the typical story – he was the funniest guy in the group. We just couldn’t wrap our heads around it.”

Then, just a couple of years later, as the country was in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, Matty received another call.

“Another friend had passed away, and this time I didn’t even need to ask. My brain immediately made the leap from that previous experience. Again we couldn’t make sense of it. We saw him and his girlfriend regularly and he seemed happy. The only thing we could think of was that he’d been laid off during COVID, but still, we just couldn’t believe it was happening again.”

After losing a second friend, Matty decided it was time to take action. He began fundraising for local charity Mikeysline, which offers support to people in the Scottish Highlands who are struggling with mental health issues. As well as providing direct support via a text-based messaging service and drop-in centres, the charity also offers a dedicated service for young people and aims to raise awareness of mental health across the area, helping to tackle the stigma and ultimately, prevent suicide.

Today, Matty is taking his involvement one step further, working with Mikeysline to set up the Moray Mental Health Football Club. By recreating the joy of childhood football, the club aims to give local people the opportunity to get active, have fun, make new social connections and create a safe space for people to chat and share their worries in a place where they feel a sense of belonging.

“Other than Mikeysline, there’s not a huge amount of mental health support in the local area,” reveals Matty. “We wanted to try and fill that gap.”

“We all love playing football, and it’s a great way for people to unite behind something, and feel part of a team. We wanted to recreate that mentality.”

The club is open to all, regardless of age or gender. “It will be a safe environment for everyone – a bit like having a kickabout when you were a kid,” Matty explains.

As well as giving people the opportunity to exercise and have fun, Matty’s keen that the club helps develop strong social bonds and encourages people to talk and get things off their chest – particularly if they’re feeling down, anxious or sad. “There will be the opportunity to talk at the end of every session,” he says. “And a volunteer from Mikeysline will be at the sessions too. They’ll be able to explain a bit more about what they do. Even if someone doesn’t feel like chatting within the group, they’ll have contact details for Mikeysline, so they can chat in confidence to a stranger later on if that’s easier.” Mikeysline will also feature on the club strip, to help raise awareness of the charity more widely.

A local business has provided the initial sponsorship to get the club off the ground but Matty and the team are continuing their fundraising efforts by selling Moray Mental Health Football Club kits and through direct donations.

It’s an exciting start for the club. “We’re just getting going, but in the future we’d like to be able to have a men’s Sunday League team, a women’s team and even a kids team in the local league.”

Matty’s very aware that early support around developing good mental health is crucial when it comes to preventing suicide. “As well as getting them out of the house, helping them make friends and get active, they’ll also learn about the importance of a positive mental attitude, and learn ways to express themselves.

“Just today I saw a story about a 10-year-old who attempted suicide because of online bullying. That’s something that, as a society, we need to address.”

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