Former England and Liverpool goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has partnered with Edge Hill University to encourage boys and young men to open up about their mental health.
The football star, 40, has spoken openly about the mental health problems that plagued the final years of his career, which led to a brief stay at a rehabilitation centre in 2019.
Chris has now teamed up with Edge Hill University and St Bede’s Catholic High School in Ormskirk, Lancashire, to launch Make Talk Your Goal.
The partnership will see a team of researchers from the University undertake a placement at St Bede’s to evaluate the impact of the programme on its students, before it is rolled out to schools across the country.
Chris said: “I started to struggle with my own mental health back in 2012, not long after I left Wigan Athletic to join Sheffield Wednesday.
“I struggled to adjust to the change in my routine and travelling a lot. Because I didn’t want to stay away from my family for too long, I would be travelling from my home near Liverpool up to Sheffield for training, just so that I didn’t have to stay overnight. But that meant that I was in the car for long periods of time on my own too, which was very isolating at times.
“I missed home a lot, and I hated that I was missing out on really important moments in my family life.
“At first, I didn’t realise that it was my mental health that was suffering because it just wasn’t something that you heard or spoke about much, especially in my world.
“So I kept it to myself and struggled for around five years and that was a really low time for me.
“I decided that enough was enough, and after covering it up for so long and trying to gloss over the issues, it reached a crisis point where there was no other option but to get help. That was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
No longer ashamed or embarrassed of his struggles, Chris hopes that by sharing his own harrowing story, he can encourage the next generation to speak out and seek help.
Make Talk Your Goal will see leading speakers from the world of sport and the arts promote conversations around mental health among boys and young men.
Chris added: “The past two years have been incredibly tough on people’s mental health. The pandemic, lockdowns and restrictions have been particularly challenging for school kids, who have experienced so much disruption to their routines and being away from their friends for long periods of time.
“Make Talk Your Goal wants to reach out to young people, particularly young lads because we know that men often don’t speak out as much as women, and make them feel comfortable to talk about their mental health.
“We’re using sports to make the sessions exciting for them and to get them socialising and exercising too, because exercise is fantastic outlet for stress relief.”
Chris recalls being approached by the chaplain at St Bede’s, near his home in Lancashire, to develop a unique mental health programme for their students after several boys reported experiencing mental health problems.
After sharing his own story with a group of students, the feedback he received has led to Chris extending the programme for all boys at the school.
Dr Bridget Mawtus, a Lecturer in Children, Young People and Families at Edge Hill, will lead the research evaluation of the programme.
Dr Mawtus said: “Now more than ever, the mental health of our young people is under pressure after the disruption caused by the pandemic and the strain it has placed on their education and socialising.
“It’s been eye-opening to witness the impact the programme has had on the students at St Bede’s, particularly because we know that young men are significantly more likely to suffer extreme consequences of poor mental health.
“Our research will focus on evaluating how the students have engaged with the programme and advise how we can enhance the delivery before we roll it out to schools across the country.”
Chris added: “I want young lads to know that they don’t need to feel embarrassed for talking about how they feel and to know that they’re not on their own. Whether you speak to someone you know or not, whether it’s through a help line or a charity, people are always there and want to listen and help.
“My message to others it be brave and talk to someone. I know first-hand how much one conversation can make a difference to someone’s mindset.”