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On the Heads Up FA Cup Final and the importance of mental health

It’s okay to not be okay.

Britons Adjust To Eased Coronavirus Lockdown, Now In Ninth Week Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to say in this post for a while — it’s been in the “To Write” section of my Evernote since the Heads Up & FA Cup initiative was announced in early June. With Arsenal in the the Heads Up FA Cup Final tomorrow and releasing related content all day today, it’s time.

Mental health awareness is a topic that is extremely important to me as someone who has struggled with my mental health in the past.

It’s critically important that we continue to destigmatize mental health issues. They’re no different than any other illness or injury, but too often we treat them differently. That stigma is real, and I can say from personal experience that people dealing with mental health issues feel the weight of it. It’s hard enough to acknowledge that you need help and to seek it out. Depression, anxiety, whatever you’re going through does more than enough to drag you down. Add to that the fear that your friends, loved ones, society, whoever are going to think less of you, and you’re caught in a crushing downward spiral that is difficult to break out of. But you can break out of it.

Being able to talk about what you’re going through is one of the ways to start to claw your way out of the hole. For me, those first few steps were the most difficult ones — admitting to myself that I needed help and telling loved ones that I was in a bad place was not easy to do. But once I started talking about it, it gradually got easier, and I was able to get the help that I needed. I’m in a good place now, thankfully.

Again, it all starts with being able to talk about what you’re going through. It’s easier to talk about when having the “I’m not okay” conversation with someone is normalized. And one of the ways to accomplish that is by just doing it, having those kinds of conversations and talking openly about mental health. It’s okay to not be okay.

I thought about distilling down the quotes that most struck me from the tweets, videos, and articles I combed through before writing, but I think it’s important to take it all in. It’s also indicative that everybody’s experience, either with mental health issues or as an ally to those dealing with mental health struggles, is different. There isn’t a “one-size fits all” solution. Just be available to help.

To announce the renaming of the final as the Heads Up FA Cup Final, Prince William joined Mikel Arteta, Per Mertesacker, Hector Bellerin, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on a call to discuss mental health in football. Here’s some of what they said:

I think in the last decade there has been put a huge amount of work in that space...how the clubs have taken on the responsibility to take a step forward to allow everyone, players, staff, everyone involved in football to speak about their individual needs. I was not comfortable speaking with certain individuals because I thought I need to be strong, to be resistant, and resilient, and to deal with any kind of circumstances. Nowadays, there are more mechanisms than ever to start a conversation and to give players and staff tools to really cope with it and also have an open environment...that we can start a conversation.

-Per Mertesacker

“I think the most important thing is to be next to them, to try to speak a lot with them and to give them all the space they need for talking, because I think the best thing is to talk and to discuss problems.”

-Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

“It’s okay to not be okay, and trying to crack that stigma that guys have that we’ve got to suck it all up and ‘man up’ and that everything needs to be hidden, that we’ve got to deal with it ourselves, when actually the strength is being able to be open and able to talk about these things with friends, family, or anyone to help you through that experience.”

-Prince William, Duke of Cambridge

You have to create a safe environment for them to be able to talk to you directly without feeling judged, or [worrying] whether that’s going to have consequences for them, whether they’re going to play or not, or my feelings towards them.

-Mikel Arteta

“Even adults, even at that time when I struggled before games and I wasn’t really comfortable with the situation, always trying to think that it shows weakness in yourself speaking about yourself, seeking help, we’re trying to get rid of that notion...top athletes struggle. It’s normal.”

-Per Mertesacker

Remember, it’s okay not to be okay. You’re not the only one, and you don’t have to struggle alone. I’ll help. People will help. You matter, and you can feel better.