Shaun Harvey: EFL hopes partnership can lower mental health issues in football

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‘The rat in my head that won't stop’ - the League Two striker living with severe anxiety

The English Football League hopes a new partnership with a mental health charity can help reduce the number of players suffering problems.

Mind will work with the EFL's 72 clubs to promote better health for players and staff.

"Mental health of players is something that's very high on the agenda," said EFL chief executive Shaun Harvey.

"We might actually stop some actual cases from happening by being able to change people's life practises."

He told BBC Sport: "It's about using their experience and expertise to be able to address these issues professionally and properly."

Mind's two-year partnership as the EFL's charity partner begins at the start of next season.

Earlier this month Accrington striker Billy Kee revealed his struggle with severe anxiety and depression, whilst former Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chairman Clarke Carlisle, ex-Cambridge boss Martin Ling and Burnley winger Aaron Lennon have all had high-profile issues with their mental health.

Last year the PFA said that 62 current and 98 former players requested support from their player welfare department in 2016.

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Clark Carlisle describes being found in Liverpool, as he struggled with his mental health.

"Whether we've done enough or not previously to help players isn't really the challenge for today," added Harvey.

"What society struggles with is an open and general recognition of mental health problems. This partnership is about building that general awareness."

One in four people suffer mental health problems and there are 6,000 suicides a year in the UK.

"Those statistics alone give you a good reason why we think it's appropriate at this time for the EFL and Mind to partner together in what we think will be a significant game-changing partnership that will raise awareness of mental health problems among millions of football fans," said EFL chairman Ian Lenegan.

'Huge thing for the mental health sector'

Lifelong Burnley supporter and former Downing Street director of communications Alastair Campbell has suffered from depression and says football can reach a group of people that can be difficult to engage.

"Male suicide is the biggest killer of young men in Britain," he said.

Alastair Campbell in the crowd at a Burnley match
Burnley supporter and Mind ambassador Alastair Campbell has suffered from depression for more than 30 years

"It's not just the fact that it's football, it's 72 clubs that play a big part in their 72 communities. If they all get behind this in the way the EFL are, it'll be a huge thing for the mental health sector."

Campbell says his experience at the frontline of British politics is similar to what those in football can go through.

"If you take the top managers in English football, they're probably in the press as much as the prime minister," he added.

"That brings pressures, the expectations of supporters brings pressures, whether it's in sport or politics.

"When you're watching a football match and you're seeing the manager and the players you don't think of them as human beings that might have difficulties - kids who are ill, parents who are getting Alzheimer's - you don't know what's going on in their private lives.

"But these pressures mount. I hope this tie up with the EFL is a way of clubs signalling that they get this as well."

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