This week is Children’s Mental Health Week, in which young people are encouraged to start speaking out about their mental health.
Norwich City’s Academy has played their own part this week, promoting initiatives such as ‘Heads Up’ and ‘If U Care Share’, opening a discussion for players struggling mentally to speak up and get the help they might need.
Speaking to canaries.co.uk, academy players Tom Scully, Zach Dronfield and Jonathan Tomkinson all shared their thoughts on the week and what it can do for those suffering.
Having spoken about his own battle with mental health on the Canaries YouTube channel, Scully believes that discussing the subject is becoming easier as more awareness is raised, and talking about any issues is becoming more and more normal.
“Weeks like this show it’s getting bigger and bigger as time goes on, more people are talking about it and realising how big it actually is. People close to me have realised on a football level how important it is because of my own experiences.
“I think it’s become more natural to talk about it. Football is a good platform to talk because of how many fans there are and how many engage with it all, so it’s a good place to start.
“The minute I spoke about it, a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I didn’t know how people would look at it, but I didn’t get one negative comment. The reason I did it was to, obviously get help for myself, but also to help others.
“I’ve been told that I’ve done that by talking about it. I think it 100% helped me by speaking out. The first few days, walking into new places I was thinking I might be getting thoughts and funny looks but ever since it’s been a positive thing.”
Speaking on the stigma of suffering in silence with mental health, Scully believes it’s being changed each day with campaigns tackling the problems of not feeling able to speak out.
“At Norwich, I think the stigma is being fought. The support I got from when I spoke out about it was fantastic. I was going through it for weeks and eventually told the gaffer I had to stop. The next morning, I was on the phone to the PFA.
“I have to give a special mention to Clive Cook from player care, who sent me home for two weeks to see my family. I’d like to thank Norwich for that help they gave me.
“In terms of football in general, I literally see people talk about their mental health daily on Twitter and things like that. It’s becoming more and more regular to talk about.”
When asked if he had any advice for those who are suffering with their mental health, Scully encouraged a discussion to be had.
“Be brave, there’s only one outcome if you can talk about it. I can 100% say speaking out only makes things better. You’ll feel like you’re not in your own shadow anymore and it only goes up from there. Starting to trust and talk about it is a massive help.”
The Under-18s captain was also full of praise for weeks like this, saying that it helps him and his teammates feel comfortable talking about any issues they may face.
“I think this week is encouraging for all the boys, it’s been proven in the past years that more and more sports people, not just footballers, are speaking out about their mental health.
“I think it’s really encouraging that the club and player care are really enthusiastic about promoting it and making us feel like it is safe to talk. At Norwich City, the work they do here is really good.
“In football, mental is half the battle in a game. A negative attitude can hinder a performance heavily, so speaking out can really get a better performance from you. As well as that, it’s obviously really important to look after yourself outside the game.”
Dronfield shared Scully’s sentiment towards the player care at the Club, going on to say that they’ve changed how he feels about opening up on his mental health.
“From a player perspective at Norwich, the work player care do is great. We’re constantly reminded that we can talk to them about anything on our minds, but as a whole, I think there’s always work to be done.
"I used to think I couldn’t talk about mental health until the guys in player care came along. In general, I think there’s more to do about it in the world, but the people taking it up are doing a really good job in promoting it.”
Originally from America, Tomkinson says it’s important for a player like himself to talk about mental health to avoid isolation he may feel being so far from home.
“I think it’s important to me because I’m living so far from home, I need to be a little bit more cautious about how I spend my free time to avoid the downward spirals that can affect my mental health.
“My dad told me a problem shared is a problem halved. Even if it isn’t the case it feels like it. Talking to someone takes the load off of a player and gives you someone to provide advice or understanding.”
When asked why he feels some people feel unable to talk about mental health, Tomkinson gave his insight, saying that some people would feel less value in needing that help.
“I’m not entirely certain why, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a trust issue. Some people may feel like they would be less valued if they shared their issues and think that if they can go through those issues alone then it can add value to themselves.”
Tomkinson not only echoed his teammates in how player care helps, but also revealed that fellow players are always there for support as well.
“I think at Norwich they make a big effort to make sure we’re in a good mental state, with player care, as well as the workshops really addressing these issues. But also, the boys all look after each other, we’re all really close and are there for each other.”