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Football and Mental Health: The Fans

An issue we just don't talk about enough

The highs and lows: Bournemouth Vs Bolton
The highs and lows: Bournemouth Vs Bolton
Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images

As well as a look at the mental health of players which was looked at earlier in the day, it is important that we also look at the mental health of those who make football, the fans. For many going to the football is their first memory. They spend their entire life going and experiencing the highs and lows. It's a passion that they can pursue in their old age unlike many other hobbies, ultimately accompanying them until they shuffle off this mortal plain. With football being such a large chunk of many a supporters life, it seems unlikely that it wont affect every aspect of life, including mental health.

One such way it can do this is by offering a form of escapism. When you look around in the stadium at 3pm on a Saturday afternoon you'll see people battling cancer. You'll see people in deeply unhappy relationships. You'll see people who have just lost loved ones. People with crushing amounts of debt and even just people who see football as the only spark in a humdrum life. What football offers is way of leaving those problems at the gate. It allows fans to be mindful and live in the now rather than letting thoughts of what lie ahead take centre stage. The shouting, the drama the feeling that you're apart of a big family, it all has an intoxicating affect on people which is what makes it the world's sport.

In one research paper I had looked at, they referred to this escapism and other interactions as 'refuelling moments' . What they mean by this is that in that 90 minutes or so when you're having fun and not letting other problems grind your mind down it gives your mind a rest (or a chance to 'refuel'). Having enough of these moments can help keep fans in better mental health, because just like the body, the brain needs rest too,

This raises an interesting question though: If football is a form of escapism because you have fun and release the mind from negativity, could poor results deprive fans of these moments? If football is the only thing in the week you look forward to and the only chance someone has to have fun and escape the problems in lie, would having a bad time make this void? In my opinion (and it is just that) yes. Football isn't fun when you're losing week in, week out. You don't get the chance to feel successful by basking in the reflective glory of the team. What could have been a source of joy becomes another source of apathy and disappointment. I feel I have personal experience of this phenomena. Last year when Bolton were on the brink of collapse and without a win in weeks I was having a tough time at work and one family member was circling the drain 100's of miles away. I will stress now I wasn't depressed but I experienced this loss of escapism. What should have been a weekly chance to forget these problems and have a good time on a Saturday afternoon became another source of negativity.

There is also the ever shrinking (thank god) elephant in the room. The majority of football fans are men. Men have long been encouraged to stiffen that upper lip. Keep calm and carry on. Been told to be strong. Football is one of the few manly arenas left in life where these ideas of thought are prevalent. Could men just deal with this emotional stuff better than our female counterparts? Bollocks. Male suicide rates are higher than female in every single age group and suicide is the main cause of death for men aged under 50. Despite this, there are fewer men than women in counselling and seeking help for depression. In the final piece of the day we will document where to get help. If you need it, take it.