Peterhead FC tackling suicide and depression risks

By Fiona Stalker
BBC Scotland reporter

Image caption,
Aaron Norris told BBC Scotland's Fiona Stalker he had struggled

A Scottish football club is putting its players and officials through suicide prevention training in a project which it is hoped could be adopted by other teams around the country, BBC Scotland can reveal.

Peterhead FC hopes the sessions could help break down the stigma surrounding mental health within the game.

The club said pressures on young players in particular can be extreme.

The union for players has welcomed the initiative.

Peterhead's Aaron Norris, 19, said he struggled after being signed for Aberdeen FC as a youngster, only to be let go as a teenager.

'Tough time'

He told the BBC's Timeline programme: "It was pretty devastating.

"I felt like my dreams had been crushed, especially being I would still say quite young.

"I didn't know what I was going to do, if I had to go and find a job or if I would pursue full-time football with a different team.

"It was hard, it was a really tough time."

David Cox played professional full-time football for Kilmarnock as a teenager. He has also played for Peterhead and is now at Forfar.

He has suffered from depression, has attempted suicide, and his experiences were one of the reasons bosses at Peterhead were inspired to act.

He said: "It's massively important for me to help others.

"Because I know what I've been through, I don't want anyone else to suffer like that.

"I'll always struggle but now I know what I've got behind me now to keep me going. Everything will be fine."

'Bottle it in'

Martin Johnson, Peterhead FC's general manager, decided to introduce the sessions.

He said of players: "They bottle it in.

"When they travelling to games they are in their own zone as it were.

"They are not the greatest at coming forward, and as an employer we need to get self-training so we can identify the problems.

"The biggest problem is the stigma of the word suicide.

"It's good to speak."

Image caption,
Iain Murray from Choose Life has praised the initiative

Iain Murray, from north east of Scotland's Choose Life suicide prevention organisation, said: "Here we are working with Peterhead Football Club where physical excellence they are trying to achieve.

"There is a danger that mental health is neglected.

"But that is not the case with this club, they are really forward-thinking, and they do want to break down the stigma and we know that is really important for employers.

"This is absolutely pioneering work."

Peterhead manager and former Scotland player Jim McInally said: "They need to cut down the amount of kids that are getting disappointed because it's far too much.

"It's not even just at full-time level, it's kids at 10, 11, 12 that are in development clubs and then you speaks to their parents and they say 'oh he's really disappointed, he's been let go', what age is he? 'Ten', and you should not know disappointment at that age."

'Rolled out'

The Scottish FA said in statement: "The health and mental wellbeing of professional footballers in Scotland is of paramount importance to the Scottish FA.

"Since 2016, we have offered Support Within Sport, a project aimed at combating mental health issues in Scottish football.

"The programme provides access to a specialist support network of experienced doctors, counsellors and psychologists and is offered free of charge to clubs, players and coaches across the 42 clubs in the Scottish Professional Football League, the top two divisions in the Scottish Women's Premier League and also to referees."

Michelle Evans, head of communications and wellbeing at PFA Scotland - the union for players - said: "We very much welcome and support the work Peterhead are doing with Choose Life in educating their players around the topic of mental health.

"For a number of years, we have been providing a service for players which gives them access to support and advice should they find themselves struggling mentally and we do regular club visits and communications with the players to ensure they know about the support that is available to them.

"It is really encouraging to see the lengths Peterhead as a club are prepared to go to to look after their players wellbeing and it would be great to see this project with Choose Life rolled out at other clubs."

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