Football Kicks In
My name is James, I'm 21 and if you asked me 8 years ago about mental health, I wouldn't have had a clue.
When i was in school, there was no talk about mental health and how to look out for symptoms. I didn't know how to look after my mental health, but I knew about the cold war and how to find what the value of 'x' is.
Now I'm not saying what schools are teaching is bad, but mental health is something that gets brushed under the carpet.
My mental health journey started on May 20th, when my Dad lost his fight to his own demons. I didn't understand. I didn't know how my Dad, the strongest man to me, had taken his own life. No one had taught me that and I started to slip down a path where I was gonna lose MY life, but it didn't start straight away.
It started with doing stuff in school like head-butting lockers. I was doing stupid stuff that would hurt me and just putting it down to being a 'joke'. Then it started getting worse. I started self-harming.
It would start with one cut, then I would do it more and more, but I didn't know that was wrong. I didn't know I needed help. Then, as I got older, it got even worse. I started hearing voices.
The voices were telling me that people are watching me and following me. They would tell me to end my life, but it became 'normal'. I didn't think I was unwell, I just thought that's what happens when someone you love dies. I was wrong.
Three weeks after my 18th birthday, I was admitted to Park Royal Centre for Mental Health. It was the darkest period of my life. I was attempting to take my own life. I was isolated and alone, but I found something. I found football. It's because of football, that I'm still alive today.
I went from a young man trying to take my own life, to being top goal scorer 3 seasons in a row for Queens Park Rangers' Mental Health team. I found a meaning in life.
People underestimate the power of football. The good thing about football is just how many men are seeking help because of it. They see they are not alone and accept help, but it's not just men who are benefiting, women are as well.
I've played against a few women for whom football has helped them a lot. It just goes to show when you play mental health football, you are all together. It doesn't matter who you play for, you all know each other and it's a chance to catch up and talk.
I'm lucky enough to know some amazing people and call them friends, all due to football. I want anyone who is suffering, or anyone who knows someone having a mental illness, that it isn't the end. In fact it's just the beginning.
Your heart and mind get unlocked. We can love and think freely and yes, sometimes it feels unbearable, but the reward at the end is worth it. We don't know what's gonna happen tomorrow but make sure you are there to see it.
James has clearly been through so much but has come out the other side stronger than ever. We're so proud that he shared his journey with us. Has football helped you cope? What did it, or any sport, give you that helped your mental wellbeing? Let us know in the comments below.