UNDERSTANDING Mental Health is a big education. Over a decade ago, I hadn’t a clue.
When Paul McGrillen committed suicide in 2009, my reaction was “why” and thought it was selfish. It was similar over two years later when Gary Speed took his own life, why would a guy who had a dream job, a lovely family and was well respected within the game be depressed?
Over the years, I’ve tried to be more understanding when people commit suicide, trying to learn that things aren’t as easy as it seems on the outside. Having the perceived perfect life of money and fame doesn’t mean happiness, as was the case with Robin Williams when he took his own life in 2014. When that happened, I remember being angry at Alan Brazil’s comments, saying it was “shocking”. I hope he’s realised now that those comments were absurd and he’s learned more about the dangers of mental health.
However, it was only when I learned about the fate of an old neighbour and friend, Tommy, that I’ve started to try and educate myself more about mental health awareness. I’d just finished a Podcast when my wife told me he’d died. I immediately asked if it was a heart attack, that was my assumption, but when she said he’d killed himself I was taken aback. I couldn’t understand this!
Tommy was the life and soul of a party, was always up for a good time, loved the company of his friends and a good family man. He also enjoyed the seven a side games I ran on a Sunday night at Broadwood for a few years, and could more than hold his own, so much so that he was nicknamed Tomaldinho such was his willingness to try a few tricks. He was a big Rangers fan, a season ticket holder at Ibrox, but that didn’t stop him becoming best mates with a couple of Celtic fans and mixing with myself even though I support Aberdeen. As you can imagine, the banter was tremendous and the colour of our shirts meant bugger all in the grander scheme of things.
Sadly, we did lose touch as our lives went in different directions, and there’s a bit of me that regrets not chapping his door to ask how he was whenever I visited my mums. The day after his death, I couldn’t concentrate at work and had to ask to leave, to which my employers were very understanding. But whilst my thoughts were obviously with his family, I was feeling for my old next door neighbour, and one of Tommy’s best mates, Ricky. One of his work colleagues had taken his life the previous year, which hit him hard, so for him to go through this again was just awful. As you can imagine, he was distraught and couldn’t believe this was happening again. He’d tried his best to help Tommy in the weeks leading up to the event, but Tommy said there was nothing he could do.
It’s hard to believe that Ricky, Tommy and I shared a pitch and had a few games of pool together a decade earlier, and now his partner in crime was gone. His family have had to pick up the pieces, it’s a shame that Tommy didn’t realise earlier how appreciated he was in his time.
That’s what mental health can do. It can bring you down, you can’t see the woods for the trees, you can’t see how much people love you and want you in their lives. You get yourself so down and in so much pain that you can only see one way out. Worryingly, suicide rates are on the rise with 784 people in Scotland (581 males and 203 females) taking their own lives in 2018, compared to 680 (522 males and 158 females) the previous year. Those statistics tell us that a lot of work needs to be done to bring those figures down, identify the signs that someone is struggling and to help people in crisis.
A common expression is that if it’s a physical injury you see a doctor and get treated. However, a mental health issue is more complex and is more difficult to treat. The resources are sparse throughout the country, which is why Back Onside and other mental health charities are seeking funding to assist those in dire need of their help.
Back Onside have been proactive in using Sport as a tool to reach out to people in need of mental health assistance. With individuals such as Garry O’Connor, Gary Dempsey, Jamie Winter constantly posting on Social Media to raise awareness, it helps reach out to an audience who follow them for being professional footballers. It is a great way to get people to come forward and seek help for their mental health problems. By seeing that Sportsmen and Sportswomen are big enough to admit having their issues, it hopefully gives others the courage to seek help themselves and come through the other end in a better place.
But Back Onside don’t just appeal to those who know Sports personalities, or even those with an affection to Sport. They will help anyone who is at crisis point, the point where they see no way out other than to end their life, and their work has helped many people get through their toughest ordeal through counselling. However, they don’t receive Government funding so they need all the funding that they can get in order to carry out their outstanding work.
This is why we are running our Aberdeen v Celtic charity game, and why we have asked the likes of Phil McGuire, Peter Grant, Darren Young and Barry Smith to play. On one hand, their names give us mere mortal fans the chance to play alongside guys whom they cheered on from the stands in their heyday, and of course there will be that competitive edge of each side striving to win the game of football. But the bigger message is that we’re all coming together for Back Onside and to raise mental health awareness, to remember those we lost and to send the message to those who are suffering that It’s OK Not To Be OK.
Tommy may not have been an Aberdeen or Celtic fan, but he’ll be in my thoughts on 29 March. Being a Rangers fan, he’d no doubt want to give pelters to both sides if he was here today, but he’d also be very supportive of such a good cause. I remember him even wearing a green top for another charity event I ran in 2009 for MacMillan Cancer Support, showing that colours are irrelevant when it comes to charity.
Attitudes towards Mental Health are so different now compared to 2009, mine included, and that can only be a good thing. Sufferers are beginning to open up more and people are beginning to have a better understanding. But there’s a long way to go to bring down the suicide rates and get the right help to people in crisis. In a more challenging world, where cyber bullying is becoming more common than in the playground, the need to talk and be there for one another could not be greater. It should not take someone as high profile as Caroline Flack taking her life for people to spread the “Be Kind” message, that should be something that comes natural rather than lashing out.
We only get one shot at life, let’s enjoy it and be there for one another, especially at ones lowest ebb.
The Scottish Football Forums Charity Match for Back Onside between Aberdeen and Celtic takes place on Sunday 29 March from 12pm til 2pm. Entry is £5 per adult and £1 per child, and raffle tickets for some great prices are available at £1 per strip. If you can’t come to the event but would like to donate to Back Onside, please give what you can to