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Last Updated: Saturday, 20 May 2006, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Kicking depression into touch
By Jane Elliott
BBC News health reporter

Pete Sayers: Photo: Neil O'Connor
Using football analogies reaches the hard to reach
A new 'football' club should soon be setting up within the hallowed grounds of Old Trafford - to help beat depression and suicide.

Sir Bobby Charlton has called on the help of community psychiatric nurse Pete Sayers, to bring mental health help to those who need it.

Sir Bobby was so impressed with Pete's work with mental health patients at League Two club Macclesfield Town that he asked him to run a similar scheme in Manchester.

By using football analogies and scenarios the 'It's a goal' scheme hopes to attract young men who are otherwise difficult to get into mental health services.


It is aimed at men aged 16-35 who suffer from depression, poor confidence or low self-esteem, or have done so.

Pete said this group of people were four times more likely to commit suicide than any other in society.

It's a Goal! aims to help people who might not feel comfortable talking to a doctor about their depression or feelings in general
Pete Sayers

He added: "Guys do not talk about themselves. Women are very good at doing this, but men are not.

"The facts and figures don't lie; men just do not talk about stuff. They internalise and it can come out in drug taking or violence and in extreme cases they can kill themselves.

"It's a Goal! aims to help people who might not feel comfortable talking to a doctor about their depression or feelings in general.

"I believe that football often mirrors life and so the project uses that to develop techniques and goals for participants that will hopefully help them deal with life's challenges."


Those attending the project , which has been featured in the Nursing Standard, are called players and each player joins a team that works for 11 sessions (based on the number of players in a team).

The sessions are called matches and are divided into stages named after team positions.

The first match is called 'goalkeeper' - this is where players sign their contracts, get to know one another and set their first goals.

This is followed by four 'defence' matches to learn the principles of teamwork, support, roles and the concept of changed.

The next four sessions are called 'midfield' matches looking at creativity, relaxation, visualisation, communication, assertiveness and posture.

The climax of the course are two 'attack' sessions where players focus on taking opportunities and on behaviour, and evaluate their progress.

Pete explained that a key part of the course is goal setting, with players encouraged to set and achieve short and long term goals.

Old Trafford
The sessions will be held at Old Trafford

He said 52 men had already started his Macclesfield project, which was launched in 2004 through social entrepreneur Malcolm McLean and the sports charity Laureus.

Pete said that as well as the planned scheme in Manchester they were also having talks with both Nottingham football clubs to see if they would be interested in participating.


Michael (not his real name) who recently completed Pete's course, said it had a tremendous impact on his life.

A manic depressive, who had been violently bullied and sexually abused in his teens, he said it had helped him come to terms with his illness, allowing him to focus on his future.

"I did not know what to expect when I did the course.

"I hoped it might help me through a current bout of depression. But what it did do was to help me accept 100% that I have this illness, which I had always tried to hide, and it focused me on getting on with my life.

I am not really interested in football, but the course spoke to us in language that blokes understand

"I had been worried that it might turn out to be a 'group hug' type scenario, like in America, but it wasn't and what it did do was concentrate on what I wanted to achieve."

Michael said his long-term goal had been to return to work full-time - something he managed to do within the course, allowing him to concentrate on his other long-term goal to become more assertive.

"I am not really interested in football, but the course spoke to us in language that blokes understand."


Alan Pringle, a lecturer in mental health nursing at the University of Nottingham who oversees the project, said the football analogy was one that could be widened to cover other sports such as cricket and rugby.

"For years we have been saying that young men do not come into the medical services and so it makes sense if they will not come to the services to take the services to them.

"On the feedback we have received, a lot of the young men have said that where they would not go near a mental health hospital they will go to this course."

He said he was delighted that other clubs were showing an interest in participating.

"If it works at Macclesfield Town, one of the smallest clubs and works at Manchester United, one of the largest clubs, then we know it will work at anything in between."

A spokeswoman for the Depression Alliance agreed: "75% of suicides in the UK are by men and young men have the fastest rising suicide rates. Men can be also reluctant to seek help.

"By using football analogies at a local football club, 'It's a Goal' can break down some of the stigma surrounding depression and encourage men to talk about their feelings in a familiar and comfortable setting."

A spokeswoman for Manchester United said she hoped the project would be up and running at the club by the summer.


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