PSHE KS4: Marvin Sordell - Living with depression

Advisory: Contains material of a sensitive nature

A film about former professional footballer Marvin Sordell, who represented England and played in the Premier League but struggled with depression and attempted to take his own life.

He talks about his depression and the things that led to his suicide attempt.

He discusses where he went for support and how he is now in a very good place.

Teacher Notes

  • This film is suitable for 14-16 year olds, but because it addresses some challenging issues we strongly advise making yourself very familiar with the content before using it and considering carefully whether it will be appropriate and suitable for your specific cohort.

  • Check class records to see if any of your class have any mental health issues or have personal/lived experience of the topics raised, and consider the best action/support for them in advance.

  • Check Government guidance on teaching about mental health along with your school policies to make sure you follow these guidelines/protocols and talk to a member of the SLT if you are in doubt about anything before you teach.

  • Whether you choose to lead a discussion, do an activity or a combination of both, always start your session by setting up a working agreement with the class. Creating a list of rules will make sure everyone feels safe and able to talk and join in without being judged.

Points for discussion

  • Are you surprised at how someone who has represented England and played for Team GB in the 2012 Olympics could feel so low in the midst of a such a successful career? Why do you think he felt so low? (He says, ‘The reason I retired at quite a young age at 28 was largely down to how my mental health was being affected. I came to a point where my love for playing the game was not worth how I was feeling and I wasn’t happy. I don’t think you can really, truly be yourself in football. You’re in a very contained, suppressing, controlling industry. Everything’s about three points and a win. You're expected to perform brilliantly every single time you walk onto a pitch… You just kind of, put on this you know facade on, that everything is ok, and that’s notoriously what men do - just say yeah I’m fine.)

  • In our society we have a bit of a love/hate relationship with famous people: would you agree or disagree? Why? Why do we, as a society, often think that famous, successful or rich people don’t have worries like the rest of us? (Discuss how fame and money can create the illusion that people at the top have no problems and how we are seeing from Marvin’s (and other people’s) stories, that this just isn’t true.

  • Marvin retired at 28 years old. This must have been a very hard decision for him as he loved playing the game and was earning a lot of money. He appears to have made the right decision though as he says, ‘I’m just in a very content and very happy place at the moment.’ He had to accept that his path as a footballer no longer made him happy. Why is acceptance often so good for our mental health? (Acceptance is often about recognising what we have control over and what we don’t.) Discuss what this means and pupils' perceptions of this.

  • What does Marvin mean when he says, ‘If I saw me in that situation now, you can tell a mile off there’s a big problem.” What does he mean by this? What signs might he have noticed? What can we learn from this insight?

Suggested activities:

  • Marvin says, ‘You’re expected to be perfect, which is a strange thing for a human because perfection is impossible…’ Consider the concept of perfectionism as a class – what is it? Where does the concept of perfection come from? Is it always the same? (Across the world? In history?) What are the realities of trying to be perfect? Can and does it affect mental health? If so, how? Pupils could design a ‘perfect’ person to explore this topic further.

  • Amelia, Marvin’s wife, talks about how stressed and worried she was about him. She says, ‘when I tried to talk to him about it he’d be really defensive or he would just say I’m tired.’ What did she do that helped him? Discuss how families can also be affected by another family member’s mental health and look at support that is available for families and friends of people suffering from mental illness. (Visit reputable organisations and charities that you have researched in advance to signpost pupils to.)

  • At the end of the film Marvin reflects on his journey. He says, ‘One piece of advice I’d give to someone if they’re struggling with their mental health is speak to somebody. Absolutely anybody. That one conversation will take you so far that you wouldn’t even know.’ He found it hard to open up and didn’t talk to anyone until his wife made him an appointment to see somebody. He struggled a lot before this and could have avoided some of this pain by talking to someone sooner. Mental health issues can get on top of us totally out of the blue, so it’s good to have a plan in mind just in case it happens to us. Who might be good people to have that first conversation with? (Here you could have a look at the support available on the Heads Together support pages and consider who would be safe to talk to at home, at school or in the wider community. Pupils then practise how they might start that conversation with someone (perhaps through drama) and discuss how resilience - maybe having to try again if the first conversation doesn’t work out as planned the first time - is so important.)

  • At the end of the discussion/activity, always check in with the group to make sure they are OK, revisit the working agreement and remind them to talk to someone if anything they have seen in the film or discussed has made them feel uncomfortable. Finally, always signpost where they can get further support or information both within and outside of school. ChildLine is there for people right up to the age of 19 for support. Students can also find out more about Heads Together and find links to further support on their Get support page.)

Curriculum Notes

These lessons will fit within: Relationships Education, Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) and Health Education in England
Curriculum for Wales, Health and wellbeing in Wales*
The Curriculum for Excellence, Health and wellbeing in Scotland
Northern Ireland Curriculum, Learning for life and work in Northern Ireland

More from this series:

Rob: Living with bereavement
Matthew: Living with anxiety
Nick: Living with anxiety
Joe Hart: Managing the pressures of the Premier League
HRH The Duke of Cambridge’s Mental Health Campaign