#ItsOKNotToBeOK - and now we're starting to believe it

#ItsOKNotToBeOK - and now we're starting to believe it.

It okay not to be okay. A message that is seen more and more regularly these days on social media and elsewhere, and one of such importance that it can never be repeated too many times. It also recently appeared at a club football stadium in Britain, when a large group of supporters wanted to give a wish of 'get well soon' to one of their heroes.

It was Leigh Griffiths, the 28 year old Celtic Football Club and Scotland striker. Sadly, just last week, it was announced by his employer that he would be taking some time off work due to some problems with his health and wellbeing. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/46539911

"He's reached a point where it's a struggle for him. We are going to give him all the professional help he needs to get him back in a good place again."

The above quote is from his manager, which is one that is reasonable and what should be expected. However, in life and in particular on the issue of mental health and not least in young men, things are not always dealt with and responded to in a way which is reasonable and to be expected (as I discussed during in the article published on this website on November 9th - Talk Tonight: Mental Health is a daily priority for all of us).

I do believe though that as a society, certainly speaking for Britain, we are undoubtedly progressing in the right direction. There is still a lot of work to do, but thankfully we can now look back with not only disbelief but relief that the situation another British star football striker, Stan Collymore, found himself in when he told his employer of his mental health struggles around two decades ago is no longer as likely to occur, and if it did then there would be consequences for the manager responsible in the form of disciplinary action. The following quote is one of many that he said at the time:

"I know he was suffering from clinical depression last season but the day after the season finished he checked out of the clinic where he was receiving treatment and went on holiday. I understand he has fully recovered but, if he hasn't, then he should pack the game in".

The contrast between the two quotes from managers at big football clubs in Britain twenty years or so apart could not be greater. If we can say that they accurately reflect a rough representation of the general response that someone in British society on a long term or permanent employment contract (sadly those prefixes are very much required to make the point as not everything has progressed positively - https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/23/number-of-zero-hours-contracts-in-uk-rose-by-100000-in-2017-ons) can expect to receive when they approach their employer to discuss a mental health difficulty, then there can be no doubt that the journey we are on is a progressive one.

However, on the journey must go. And it is the contribution to the progress of this journey that I believe is as important as anything else that Leigh Griffiths has contributed to the lives of many people in society in his career and in his life in general so far. He showed immense courage to take the vital and often extremely difficult step of acknowledging his health struggles and asking for help. Thankfully, this means that he now has every chance of reaching his 'good place' again.

It also significantly increases the likelihood of others doing the same. We saw more courageous positive action recently from another young male whose sporting achievements are often a cause for celebration who also has experienced problems with mental health, when 30 year old boxer Tyson Fury spoke at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year event (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/sports-personality/46587603).

"We need to spread the word on mental health more in sport because a lot of people are still living in darkness and are too afraid to come out and speak about it publicly."

"If I can speak about [mental health] - heavyweight champion, six foot nine, 18 stone tough guy - anybody can," he said at the 2018 Sports Personality of the Year ceremony.

"Anybody can get help, for sure."

The importance of this message and self disclosure cannot be overestimated. Top athletes are observed and idolised by many. Their words and actions carry huge significance and have the power to make a positive impact on the lives of many people.

For Leigh Griffiths, this is not something that is unusual. Supporters of the various clubs that he has played for in his career so far have enjoyed many moments of celebration over the last decade or so as a result of the 200 plus goals that has scored. Indeed during the summer before last, he was the toast of the nation as he scored two of the most memorable goals in Scottish international football history in a World Cup qualifying match away at Wembley.

It would be accurate to say that his hard work, talent and commitment on the training and match pitches have resulted in a general consensus amongst many observers that he is Scotland's best striker.

His impact though, goes beyond the result of his actions on these fields of play. He regularly gives time, energy and money to others that are in need of help in some way. It would take a vast amount of space to list even a small percentage of the numerous examples of support that he has regularly offered in the past that has benefitted others. Whether it be a visit to an ill or injured young fan, a donation to a charitable cause or spending an afternoon or evening at a community event or presenting medals and prizes to a team of young sports players, a quick internet search will give a list of examples of positive action that those involved will always remember with fondness and gratitude.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some time with him during some of this list of examples. In 2017 I had the privilege to do some volunteering for a fantastic community organisation called Edinburgh Helping Hands (@EdiHelpingHands) to support the delivery of an initiative which was set up to enable children from the city to have the opportunity to access free football coaching. Children from the north, south, east, west or centre of the capital regardless of their ability to pay the rising cost of sports participation, improved their health and wellbeing as a result . The programme's success was down to the dedication of many, over several months culminating in a celebration event where over 330 children enjoyed a fantastic and memorable experience including support from a team of football stars that the Scotland striker was part of that gave their time to be part of a day that the participants will never forget. https://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/sport/football/hibs-boss-lennon-hails-helping-hands-community-festival-of-football-1-4557105

Now his self disclosure and public acknowledgement of his current health struggles and acceptance that he needs help will already have inspired many others to do the same. A famous chant from football supporters all over Britain includes the line; 'and now you are going to believe us, we are going to win the league'. Thanks to Leigh Griffiths, supporters at the famous Celtic Park recently had something much more important on their minds than any trophy. When they held up a banner with the words 'its ok not to be ok', on it, it was further evidence that in society we are progressing along the journey towards really believing that message.

I said recently, in my aforementioned article on this website, when discussing the importance of another movement by another group of football supporters in Britain to raise awareness of mental health issues in men:

''The Talk Tonight movement was an example for all to follow in terms of what is possible. I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that already, the contribution of all of those involved has saved the lives of numerous people.

It is up to every single person in society to make sure that we all do the best that we can to try to do the same''.

Leigh Griffiths, as ever, is more than playing his part.