Meet Mental Health United
It is Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK which gives opportunity to talk about the problems and stigmas attached to mental health issues. It is a campaign to raise awareness around the daily problems affecting millions of people in the UK and with that in mind we take a look at Mental Health United based in Brighton and Hove.
Mental Health United were formed during the pandemic by Tim Allen who wanted to help people that may have had their mental health negatively impacted by lockdown.
“I was living in Kent when I first started having mental health problems, depression, anxiety and it was gradually getting worse. It was always in the summer when football wasn’t on that I’d notice it would be worse.” Tim speaks honestly and open with us about his own struggles that have led him to this point. Football, as it so often does, gave him a lifeline. If it was like that for him, who knows how many others were experiencing something similar.
That’s where the idea of Mental Health United came from. Tim knew that he couldn’t be alone in what he was experiencing and wanted to bring it to a wider circle.
“Like most people, I’ve played football since I was a kid. I’ve moved areas and got older but always been involved with Sunday league football.
“I moved to Brighton and started playing for a team here but then lockdown happened. I really thought people are going to need something when we come out of this especially approaching a third lockdown. I had some time over Christmas where I thought, ‘let’s start doing this.’
“I built up a small website, set us up on social media and as I got us on twitter I just saw Pandora’s box had opened. I saw a lot of charity teams up and down the country, but I couldn’t find a mental health specific team in Brighton.
“I found Sands United of course who are for men who have experienced stillbirth, and they were fully booked just dealing with that niche.
“I just thought well if I can’t find something then let’s make it. This is a real wider problem, so I thought there had to be way more people out there that want something like this. It’s become a snowball effect, speaking to different people and running some Facebook ads and we had such a great response.
“I’ve been speaking to people that might have stopped football for various reasons whether that be family, work etc. or just not had the confidence to go to a team.”
One person who has benefitted massively from this project, is 31-year-old Nick Ives, who hasn’t looked back since going to his first session.
“I’ve suffered with mental health problems quite a bit over the last couple of years and I came across Mental Health United on Facebook.
“I’d been offered counselling sessions in the past but the idea of that is quite daunting to me. After sending Tim a message and talking through the concept and what it would entail, it just made me feel a lot more comfortable.
“I’m 31 now and I haven’t really played football since the days of being at school or college. It was nerve-wracking for me to go along initially because I hadn’t played in such a long time. I find it hard to put in to words what this idea and project does for me, but I just feel comfortable and welcomed and it’s given me something to focus on.”
It’s quite incredible how open Nick is with us, which he puts down to the increased confidence Mental Health United has given him. It takes Tim back a bit when Nick credits Mental Health United in the way he does, a feat he didn’t expect to achieve.
“I think just coming to a session where everyone is going through something and you’re all consciously aware of that I think it creates a connection. The sessions have been great, everyone is there for the same thing.
“For Nick to say that he finds us as a more comfortable experience than counselling, I’ve never heard anyone say that, so I thank him for that, it’s not what I set out to do.
“I viewed us as being supplementary to other services out there, but Nick’s journey may see him have the confidence to go and open up to other services.
“With anxiety and depression, the things that come with that, are often low confidence, low self-esteem which can be problematic for you going to get direct help.
“We’ve only had a handful of sessions so far due to the pandemic, but we’ve already seen a transformation in Nick, for example. From the first session he came to, to the most recent, they’re different ends of the spectrum.
“I thought I would have to take control quite a bit making everyone feel welcome, but everyone that’s coming to our sessions are almost becoming leaders themselves and taking that responsibility on.”
So, what does the future hold for Mental Health United? For Tim, there are no limits.
“When I originally started this, I’d like to follow similar to how Sands United have done it where they’re actually entering a Sunday League team etc. and maybe we end up there, maybe we don’t.
“The current vision is just to keep growing. We had 14 at our last session on a third of a 3G pitch so if we can get to a stage where we’re hiring out an entire 3G pitch, that’d be great and certainly the next goal.
“Football always has likeminded people anyway because even if you know absolutely no one, you have the subject of football to talk about.
“With us, we have a group of people that have joined this club because they either care about mental health or suffer with their mental health and we live in a world where we’re talking more about it; combining it with football, I think is really powerful.
“Where it goes from there is a case of can we secure more funding or running more of these sessions and we often come up with different ideas like maybe a teenager specific one and we’ve had women reach out recently as well.”
The universal language of football. It’s quite incredible what that can achieve. For Nick, it gave him a more comfortable way of opening up about his mental health through football. For Tim, he’s brought people together for the means of helping one another and in his words, that is really powerful.
Lastly, Tim had this to say for people looking to join Mental Health United: “Just reach out to us, I’d like to think that I’m super friendly! If you’re anxious about it just let me know and I’ll cater for you the best I can.
“When new people arrive, we try and personalise that welcome and make sure either me or Nick is there to introduce them to the group.
“Just go for it because I promise you won’t regret coming down, it’s entirely non-judgemental, it’s a relaxed environment and open to everyone. I’d also like to thank Stairfix Direct for all their support to us”
MENTAL HEALTH UNITED FACEBOOK
MENTAL HEALTH UNITED TWITTER
For more information on Mental Health football in Sussex please contact:
T: 01903 766855