Ssc Blog 800x460px Mentalhealthinitiative

'We Wear The Same Shirt' initiative

By Gemma Raw

Across the UK, there are many sporting initiatives which are designed to support mental health. This issue, we speak with representatives from the We Wear The Same Shirt initiative, which is led by the FAW Trust and supported by Time to Change Wales. The project is a unique football programme designed specifically for people with lived experience of mental health.

For those suffering from mental health issues, the stigma surrounding their mental health and the discrimination that they may face can often be as debilitating as the illness itself. With physical activity a proven factor in improving mental health, the "We Wear The Same Shirt" initiative is an exciting way of facilitating sporting access for people living with mental health problems. As part of the project, six football clubs (Wrexham Inclusion Football Club, Newport County AFC and Newtown AFC, Cardiff Met AC, Haverfordwest County AFC, and Cambrian & Clydach Vale FC) have offered dedicated coaching sessions...with a twist. Unlike many other sporting initiatives, many of the coaches themselves have been affected by mental health problems and have received help and support from social services. 

Speaking of the initiative, Wayne Greenshields, Team Manager of Wrexham Inclusion Football Squad says: “We offer people the opportunity to change their lives through football. Not everyone likes going to see a counsellor but can be persuaded to play football. We have seen so many people – men and women – turn their lives around. 

“All of our 15 coaches came to us as players with mental health difficulties. One of our coaches hadn’t left his house for five years unless it was to visit his GP. He arrived at one of our sessions one day when he felt like he had hit rock bottom. Five years on, he is a highly qualified coach and travels the world playing and coaching football.” 

Wayne and his counterpart Norman Parselle, Community Development Officer at County in the Community (Newport County AFC) have taken time to speak exclusively with us about what the “We Wear The Same Shirt” project is about, and how social workers can get involved in similar initiatives across the UK.

Statistically, one in four of us will be affected by mental health issues, and it’s a known fact that suicide is the biggest killer amongst men. Why do you think it’s so difficult for people to ask for help when they are struggling or to talk about how they are feeling?

WG: "I personally believe the 1 in 4 ratio is a myth; a number not possibly near the true identity of the problem. In my opinion, the number is much higher and is only masked by people's ability to hide their feelings, emotions, and tendencies. The stigma attached to men is huge. Famously we do not talk; to our partners, each other, our friends. It is embedded into us as we grow up to be manly, macho, provide, protect, don’t show fear or be scared. So how are we then meant to be able to show emotion and express our feelings? Initiatives such as football therapy, men’s sheds or lads and dads groups have seen a huge rise in men accessing their deeper feelings and sharing with each other. I believe that we are almost re-educating ourselves.” 

NP: "I believe a lot of men think it's a sign of weakness to ask for help and it's obviously not. I also think some men don't know where who or how to ask for help/support which is another separate issue which needs to be addressed."

Many of the coaches involved in this project have been affected by mental health issues and have previously received support from social service teams. What support have you been able to give them to help them achieve their coaching qualifications and change their lives?

NP: "We have both male and female coaches at our WWtSS sessions who have severe Mental Health problems. They deliver 90% of our sessions currently and have had support over the last 2 years to gain the relevant qualifications and experience. Two of our coaches who have paranoid schizophrenia have attended five different qualifications (FAW Leaders, First Aid, Safeguarding, Disability, and FAW UEFA C Licence)." 

WG: "In Wrexham, our project is based upon a cycle which involves every single coach and peer mentor within our club, who has been a service user, and still can be. This offers them greater insight and understanding as well as the necessary relationship building tools to help them mentor and support others. We work hard to ensure that our coaches and mentors are given huge amounts of support to follow this path. For instance, we offer our coaches access to football leaders, safeguarding training, first aid training, disability training, diversity inclusion training, C Certificate training, conflict resolution, therapeutic intervention and problem-solving amongst others. As a club, this can cost us between £500-£1,000 per coach, and as we have fifteen coaches, it's a considerable investment but we believe it's worth every penny." 

How do people find out about the initiative, and what work are you doing with social work teams to recruit people?

WG: "We have many referrals, and successful ones at that, from our social work team in Wrexham as well as other areas. We actively recruit through the use of social media, through our website, and through drug and alcohol intervention programmes. We also work extremely closely with homeless shelters, social workers, care homes and citizens advice to promote the project as much as we can. When we work with someone new, we can tailor entry packages of support, through meetings, slow entry or minibus pickups. We can even offer reduced rates for carers on trips – we do what we can to help people get involved." 

This particular project has been established in Wales thanks to the FAW Trust and investment from Sport Wales and UEFA. What can social work teams in other areas of the country do to promote a similar initiative?

NP: "The best way by far is to go along and see for yourself, the football itself is a carrot for people but the whole project really is a lot more." 

WG: “It’s important that we spread the word far and wide and help people understand that while football can help, don’t be caught short thinking that it’s just football. This project can be so much more to men and women who can share moments of praise and pain, win and loss, emotions and feelings and offer them safe ways to express these. I would also like to emphasise that multi-agency working is paramount to the success of these programmes; work together, work hard and work for each other – you might not only change a person’s life, you could save them.” 

What participants say about the project...

“I always loved football but couldn’t stop using. I found the club when I was at my worst and I don’t mind admitting that it saved my life.” 

“I didn’t leave the house. I had no mates, no qualifications. Five years on, I’ve travelled the UK and Europe, I’m the head coach of our disability session and even managed and organised a whole trip to Ireland.” 

“I was an angry person when I found the club and only concentrated on football. Peer mentoring and learning opportunities taught me about life and the bigger picture. I got injured and relapsed, but I'm back on the straight again now – I'm coaching in two sessions a week and I manage teams at tournaments occasionally. I now know that it is me that makes me who I am and I own my mistakes." 

“I joined the club two years ago. I was very nervous and came from a few bad years in my life which made me question everything. I still have anger but I get that there are consequences to my actions. I coach as much as I can, due to work commitments, which I’m proud of, and I also have the chance to travel to Mexico in November 2018 to represent Wales in the Homeless World Cup.” 

Want to know more? For more information about the We Wear Any Shirt initiative, visit the website or contact the FAW Trust on 01633 282911.