This PDF is a companion to the web page you're reading now. It has more advice on the topics above, plus lots more - with statistics, links and pointers to further help. Written by the FA and the team here at Mental Health at Work, it's designed to support football writers everywhere.
Mental health: some pointers for football writers
While the physical and mental health of footballers is scrutinised by millions of people around the world, little consideration is given to those who follow and report on the game for a living. With long hours on the road, tight deadlines, the ongoing expectancy of delivering an exclusive, and all sorts of other stresses, protecting your mental wellbeing can be a challenge – and that’s before you take into account the circumstances around COVID-19.
So, we’ve teamed up with the Football Association, as part of their Heads Up campaign, to bring you some ideas and some pointers for where to go for help and for more information.
Let’s get this out of the way up front: life and work are very different now for football writers, as for many others, compared to only a few months ago.
Maybe you’re going out to work again or thinking about the time when you will. You might be worried about your safety or the safety of those around you, or about the current situation ruining your plans. Perhaps you’re looking forward to it – but even then, it’s been a stressful time and everyone’s reserves have been depleted for one reason or another.
So, remember that it takes time to recover, and build up gradually if you can. And if you’re already up and running, remember to think, every day, about your mental health as well as the physical precautions you’ll be taking.
Keeping your eye on the ball
Staying up late to hit deadlines and then waking up early to gauge the public reaction to last night’s piece. Checking your emails and starting to work on today’s stories before you’ve had your breakfast. Sound familiar?
Try and set realistic boundaries so you can differentiate between work and ‘me’ time and embed protective factors into your daily routine. That may mean committing to not checking your phone after a certain time; ensuring you have dinner or conversations with your family or friends each night; or carrying out daily exercise to clear your mind.
While many writers are part of a team, the role is naturally competitive. People can find themselves looking for the powerful story or headline to put them a step ahead. This competitive nature can cause rising pressure and tension amongst your colleagues, which in turn can, at times, resonate in intimidating or harassing behaviour.
It’s important to always raise any issues in the workplace with your line manager or editor so they can be resolved helpfully, and so your team can get back to working towards the same goal with the right intentions. Even if you see or hear something that doesn’t directly impact yourself, keep an eye out for those around you.
Away from home
During normal circumstances, football writers often find themselves being posted to all parts of the country and beyond for days, sometimes weeks, at a time. Spending significant amounts of time away from your friends and family can lead to you feeling lonely or isolated. While the football and match reports will keep you busy for a few hours, it’s the long journeys and empty hotel rooms that follow where you can find this lifestyle taking its toll on your mental health.
While working away, try setting a regular – if inevitably moveable – time to contact your loved ones, whether it’s a daily phone call or video call, to ensure you stay connected. You could also look at alternative ways to help you relax and fill those quieter times, which don’t include football, whether it’s listening to podcasts, taking up photography while away in different locations, an active hobby or something else.
These are just a starting point. Below, you’ll find sources of help and more information, and also a downloadable PDF with a more detailed version of this text. It’s all based on the experiences of real football journalists: their thoughts on what life is like and what might help.
Resources in this toolkit:
The Green Ribbon Campaign
A visible show of support for colleagues with mental health problems is a great way to reduce stigma and get people talking. This campaign aims to help create more inclusive workplace cultures, and anyone can take part.
It can be difficult to discuss mental health at work, especially in such a competitive field as sports journalism. Knowing who to speak to and planning what to say can help you feel in control of the conversation.
If you’re looking for information for yourself or others, rather than immediate support, this helpline can point you in the right direction. Mind will help you understand different types of mental health problems, and where you can get help.
Sometimes, being in the public eye can have an impact on your mental health. This help page explores some things you can do if you, a colleague, or one of your reports is the target of a hate campaign.
Every Mind Matters: Your Mind Plan
Finally, one of the simplest ways to get started is to make a plan. Using this tool from Public Health England, you answer five simple questions to receive an action plan to improve your wellbeing and look after your mental health.