England stars open up about their mental health challenges
Monday marked the start of Mental Health Awareness Week so we sat down with four stars of the England men’s and women’s teams to discuss some of the challenges they have faced during their careers.
Mental Health Awareness Week is an annual event and this year’s theme is loneliness, with the aim of encouraging people to build meaningful connections with friends, family members, colleagues and their communities.
Loneliness can be a driver and a product of poor mental health and with the impact of the Covid pandemic still being felt across the world, the importance of good mental health and avoiding the feeling of being alone continues to be critical.
Presenter Adam Smith is someone who has spoken openly about his own battles with mental health in the past and recently he sat down with England men’s team internationals Nick Pope and John Stones, before spending time with Lionesses stars Lucy Bronze and Demi Stokes.
Stones is one of several England men’s team stars to have discussed their own mental health challenges previously, with the likes of Tyrone Mings and Jessie Lingard among those to speak excellently about their difficulties in the past.
“The pitch can be a lonely place I think. Very lonely,” Stones said.
“If things aren't going well for you as an individual, sometimes you feel the weight of the crowd and you feel the weight of the pressure on your own shoulders that you put on yourself because you know you can do better and you know you've got that standard.
“I think for me when I was out of the team for quite a while - maybe a year or so or maybe a bit more - at the start it was difficult. I was questioning myself. What was I doing? What could I do to get back in the team? And it spirals.
“I think anyone that's been in a difficult place or a dark place, you can't see the light sometimes.
“So, yeah, I did a lot of self-reflecting and a lot of self-criticism, which is never easy, but I think it's the best way to go about improving.”
The centre back continued: “At that time, I had the mentality of a lot of boys and men in the world where I thought I could deal with it and do it by myself but speaking out to people that I trust helped a lot. It helped just venting things at times and getting it off my chest.
“My biggest advice is if someone is feeling lonely or in a dark place, try to speak to someone. And the bigger challenge is for those people around that person. It is to ask the person that you can see is hurting or in a bad place ‘how are you?’ or ‘would you like to speak’ and don’t just stop at that, because it is so easy for someone to just reply ‘yeah I’m alright’ and then it is the next day or that afternoon or the night or following morning.
“I would challenge those people to not stop and make sure they do more for the person who may be in a dark place.”
Stones and Pope discuss mental health challenges
England stars John Stones and Nick Pope sit down with Adam Smith as part of Mental Health Awareness Week
Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place between May 9 and May 15, aims to raise awareness of the links between poor mental health and loneliness, with the hope it can provide safe and welcoming spaces for people to talk and support each other.
It is also hoped the week could be a catalyst to help upskill people in being able to use technology to stay in touch with their loved ones and also to create an army of volunteers to support those who might be feeling lonely.
People are being asked to actively check in on those around you at work and in your community, and to actively encourage more people to do the same.
Like many, England Lionesses star Bronze acknowledges her understanding of mental health has developed over time and reiterated Stones’ point that sometimes you must delve a little deeper than the first answer, when it comes to finding out about a loved one’s mental health.
Bronze said: “These conversations are hugely important. As I have got older, I have realised how it has become more of an important subject and aspect of my own life.
“I think ten years ago, it was not something which was spoken about, not only in a team setting or at home but even on the TV and things like that. Ten years ago, I was definitely one of those people who would push it to the side.”
She continued: “I think ten years ago, you would be like ‘what is she crying for?’, ‘why is she being so soft? It is not that deep. It is not a big deal.’
“But I think we have all learned now that you just don’t know what is going through someone’s head, what is going on in their life and what is happening because some people don’t like sharing certain aspects of their life or how they are feeling.
“Me and Demi are probably two of those people where you have to probe a little bit more to actually get to the root of ‘are you alright?’ because we would always reply ‘yeah, we are fine’.”
It was a point echoed by Stokes, who added: “I think the English mentality is ‘don’t be weak’, ‘don’t cry’ and ‘if you do, then it doesn’t look good’. And I think for me growing up, it was the same thing. If something happened, then you almost parked it and tomorrow was a new day and you carried on.
“I think you look out for it more so if you see someone’s behaviour change, then you might wonder what is going on and ask if they are alright. Whereas ten years ago you probably wouldn’t even look out for it and you wouldn’t question it.”
Bronze and Stokes both highlighted the positive impact of seeing some of their role models speak publicly about their struggles with mental health, with England Lionesses greats Karen Carney and Kelly Smith among those to do so.
Bronze said: “I think younger players are a little bit more open compared to when we were younger because they have maybe had a little bit more education and they have seen a lot more of the people they look up to or their role models coming out and speaking about it.
“Kaz Carney is someone that we played with and she openly spoke a lot about it, particularly at the end of her career, and it was something that she dealt with a lot throughout her career and it was only at the end that she really spoke about it and I wouldn’t have known playing with her. All those years I wouldn’t have had a clue and I got on really well with Kaz.
“With people like that opening up, you then have these younger players who are a lot more open than we were when we were younger because we were that generation where you didn’t show weaknesses.
“It was seen as a weakness but whether it is in day-to-day life or in a sport like football, I 100 per cent see it as a strength rather than a weakness, and it owning who you are and how you feel.”
Bronze and Stokes discuss importance of mental health
England stars Lucy Bronze and Demi Stokes discuss some of their mental health challenges
Pope endured a tough summer last year as he missed out on a dream home European Championship due to injury.
The Burnley goalkeeper discussed his mental health in the video above and there will be more articles from Pope, Bronze and Stokes on EnglandFootball.com throughout this week, whilst you can read Stone’s article for World Mental Health Day in October here.
Pope said: “I think something we have spoken about at a club level and here [with England] is controlling the controllables. Those things which are out of your control are really things which can’t be helped and you can’t have an effect on but they can affect you. So something which has stood me in good stead when it comes to my mental health is to try to really affect what I can affect and really look after those things.
“If you are not happy about something, what is something which, maybe it is only something really small, but you can change to make it better? And take that step in the right direction and if you make that first step in a right direction, then it is a positive step and then you look at the next step after that and the next one and you take one at a time until you are feeling in a better place.
“Then you don’t stop there just because you are feeling slightly better. You can keep it going and really have the evolving thoughts that when you are in a good place, you can get to a slightly better place.
“I think as a footballer, you always want to improve but that is something which you can take into life as well.”
Need mental health support?
If anybody watching this is struggling or concerned about somebody close to them, we’d encourage you to reach out, start off small and have that first conversation. There is always somebody who cares, who can listen, and who can help.
For additional support you can contact the Samaritans, which offers 24/7 support, or Calm between 5pm-midnight. And for more information and advice, you can also contact mental health charity Mind.
Samaritans: Call 116 123 or email email@example.com
Calm: Call 0800 58 58 58
Mind: Call 0300 123 3393 or email firstname.lastname@example.org