The Changing Room
As someone who has written extensively about a bipolar diagnosis during my 20s prompting three decades of antipsychotic medication, this annual awareness campaign is always poignant. This year I'm fortunate to have benefitted from the support of a mental health outreach programme I joined last October, The Changing Room.
Organised by the Scottish Association for Mental Health and piloted at Hibernian FC and then Heart of Midlothian FC in 2018, The Changing Room is a 12-week programme with one goal – to promote men’s mental health and wellbeing through the power of the beautiful game. This hugely successful initiative has since been rolled out to clubs across Scotland, Scottish Government funding has been provided to launch 'Changing Room Extra Time' sessions to build on the existing programmes, while The Changing Room for Young Women has also been launched at Hibs and Hearts for women aged 18 to 30. (Women between the ages of 16 and 24 are almost three times as likely to experience a common mental health issue as males of the same age, 1 in 2 females will stop taking part in any organised physical activity by the age of 20, and around 1 in 5 women have a common mental health problem such as anxiety or depression.)
Participants of the 12-week programmes at Easter Road also have the opportunity to attend monthly drop-ins under the banner Supporting Our Supporters, meeting on the last Monday of every month in the Community Hub at Easter Road, 6-7.30 pm. The main difference to the Changing Room is that the former sessions are delivered by SAMH coaches, whereas the SOS drop-ins are chaired by Hibs Community Foundation (HCF) volunteers who have been through the Changing Room themselves, some of whom have gone on to receive training in coaching by SAMH.
Walk and Talk
The opening day of Mental Health Awareness Week, Monday 15 May, coincided with an SOS-arranged 'Walk and Talk.' Pioneered by SAMH, these sessions have become an integral part of the Changing Room programmes, giving participants the opportunity to talk freely about issues they might have side-by-side rather than seated around a table. Against the backdrop of a relaxing stroll around the pitch perimeters of familiar home grounds, participants embark in pairs, discussing the football on their first circuit (sometimes pointing out season ticket seats), relaxing into a mode where they might be more comfortable opening up about their mental health on the next circuit.
SAMH organised the inaugural Changing Room 'alumni event' last October, inviting supporters of every Scottish club who'd completed their respective 12-week programmes to the Hampden hospitality suite. As well as touching base with fellow alumni, attendees listened to motivational talks by SAMH and club coaches, and former Hearts, Rangers and Wigan Athletic centre-half, Andy Webster. A key component of this inspirational gathering was a similar chance to 'Walk and Talk' around the national stadium.
At Monday's event, we gained a pitchside view during our 'Walk and Talk,' before retiring to the technical area for a chat. As ever, Lewis Melee, the HCF Head of Community, was on hand to make sure we didn't get locked in!
The Changing Room provides a safe environment where participants can share stories. While revealing personal traumas takes courage, open conversations about lived experience of mental health problems can also help others feel more able to talk about their own experiences. Here are some examples from different Changing Room sessions.
Current Hibernian captain and first goalkeeper David Marshall volunteered to become a member of the HCF Board in 2022. He was a guest speaker at a recent event at the Community Hub, pictured here with HCF/SOS volunteers, Dave Thomson, Neil Renton, Paul Taylor and Mark Fleming.