men playing football

Head In The Game: Breaking down the stigma behind men’s mental health through football

In 2021, suicide was the biggest cause of death for men under the age of 50 with more than 5,000 suicides registered in England.

Step forward Head In The Game (HITG), a community interest company which started as a direct response to the Covid pandemic and its impact on mental health, has a mission to end male suicide in the UK by using football as the driving force to start those often difficult conversations.

HITG founder, director and project lead, Mark Pinkney said: “The message that I really want to get across is that if we are talking and if we are upfront and honest about these types of subjects and we feel as though we are in a good place to be able to talk about them, that’s half the battle won, its all about talking, it’s the talking that really saves people lives.”  

HITG gives men in the local community the opportunity to come together and enjoy football with free weekly sessions for all abilities between the ages of 18-55. 

HITG have won over £190,000 worth of funding since 2021, delivered more than 140 sessions during 2021/2022 in Kent, East Sussex, Sheffield and London, as well as being finalists in the BBC’s Make A Difference Award in 2022. 

HITG are partnered with Brentford Community Sports Trust, Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, Millwall Community Trust, The CO-op and The Gym Group. 

All sessions are supported by experienced football and talking therapy coaches with each session having a focus on men’s mental health and wellbeing, providing an outlet in a secure and trusted environment.

Pinkney said: “Football’s very much a team game and we talk a lot about the camaraderie in a dressing room in a successful team and what we try and do is harness that trust with our sessions.

“We give them that opportunity to talk, to be upfront and to be honest and to share and I think it’s taking some of those fundamentals of football and implementing that into every day life.”

The company aims to tackle the stigma of talking openly about men’s mental health, promote positive physical and mental wellbeing and create open and welcoming atmospheres where personal issues can be raised and discussed in a safe and secure environment. 

Speaking about the plans for 2023, Pinkney said: “We are looking to launch at least two new programmes, one of which will be a different sport and another one that we are very keen on is to see whether the offer of mental health and football might be something that works well for the women game as well.”

According to HITG data, from 18 participants between January and March 2022, 72% feel more able to address their problems & concerns, 66% felt better equipped to deal with setbacks while a huge 88% now feel more confident in themselves.

So far over 180 men have been supported in towns and cities across the country which has helped to make positive long term changes to their wellbeing and lives. 

For more information on Head In The Game click here.

Featured image credit: Head In The Game

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