Football and Mental Health

Football Can Help Mental Health

As the delayed 2020 UEFA European Football Championship started this month, it’s important to remember that football brings people together. Men particularly need it as a form of release. For men who have a mental health illness, football can be a much-needed distraction from their dark thoughts and worries. It can lift spirits, especially when your team wins.

Patients with dementia are encouraged to watch re-runs of their favourite historic football games. This can trigger memories and evoke emotions, not just about that particular game, but other personal activities that occurred in that particular time of their lives.

During the coronavirus crisis in 2020 and 2021, the national lockdown restrictions meant that we had to minimise time spent outside our homes. It was against the law to meet socially with family or friends unless they were part of your household or support bubble. Many people took to watching boxsets and films to pass the time, and football was no exception. Many men needed as much televised sport as could happen safely.

Football and Mental Health

‘Positive stress’ is stress that has a positive health benefit, similar to a moderate cardiovascular workout. If your team is successful, watching your team win results in the lowering of blood pressure. It improves your mood, psychologically, for at least 24 hours. On the flip side, a loss results in an extended period of low mood and depression.

Football brings people together unexpectedly

As the founder of For Men To Talk, I love football. I love the togetherness that the sport brings.

I visit Kenya every year on a humanitarian trip. In 2016, I was there for the country’s Independence Day. As a sign of the growth of Nakuru, one of the country’s cities, and for the first time in their 53-year history, the celebration ceremony hosted by the president was held at the local football ground. This was a few hundred yards down the road from the resort where my group was staying.

Unfortunately, security insisted that, due to safety, we’d have to remain in our resort all day instead of visiting the school we were building. Although devastated, we fully understood and respected their decision.

Football and Mental Health

At the back of the resort was a field and we took a ball out for a kickabout. At 6.30pm we were due back to the resort for our dinner. However, as we were packing away to finish, a tribe of Masai warriors interrupted us. Yes, Masai warriors, in full headgear and outfits, with jewellery and spears. We thought they needed the land for practicing for further Independence Day celebrations, but we were wrong. They wanted to play a match!

They stripped off their full attire and they were ready. We played a 30-minute match, winning 4-2, but the score didn’t matter; the Masai warriors were amazing. It was an amazing experience that I will never ever forget. It was very emotional. Before we left, the warriors performed their tribal dance and we joined in with them.

Although I am biased, because I love the sport, football really is a universal game that brings people together, both through watching, especially during this coronavirus pandemic, and playing. The Masai warriors couldn’t speak a word of English, and we couldn’t speak their tribal language, but football was the communication.

Football and Mental Health

WORDS Luke Newman

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