Morecambe FC winger Kevin Ellison says “it’s okay not to be okay” as a national campaign is launched encouraging football fans to look after their mental health.
A short film narrated by the Duke of Cambridge will be played in stadiums just before kick-off at every FA Cup third round match this weekend, January 4 and 5.
Ellison, 40, who has dealt with mental health issues himself, said speaking out takes courage and strength, and for him personally “was like a monkey off my back after nine years”.
Kick-off for all 32 fixtures this weekend will be delayed for 60 seconds to prompt fans to consider their well-being.
The film features England stars including Jesse Lingard, Harry Maguire and Jordan Pickford and will also be broadcast to those watching the games at home on TV.
Ellison, who has played for Morecambe since 2011, and has made 550 appearances in the football league, said: “I’ve been through my own hard times, and I’ve got passion and I want to help others.
“Football strikes a chord with people all over the world, so it’s a great way of getting the message out there. It’s okay not to be okay.
“I had a couple of years of hard times and bad memories, and I suffered in silence.
“I didn’t speak out.
“I worried people would judge me, but the response I got when I did speak out on social media was amazing and unbelievable.
“I put a lot of what I was feeling in that Tweet, and afterwards it was like a monkey off my back after nine years.
“Now here I am in a better place, and I hope I can help others get there.”
He said that “everyone feels a bit vulnerable at some point”, and that mental health can be seen as a stigma or a weakness.
“But it takes massive courage and strength to speak out, so it’s the complete opposite of weakness,” he said.
“It gave me power, and it’s made me a lot stronger.
“This is a great way of encouraging men to speak out and say ‘it’s okay not to be okay’.”
The film is a collaboration between Public Health England’s (PHE) Every Mind Matters and the Football Association and Heads Together’s Heads Up campaign.
Prince William, who is president of the FA, says in the film: “In life, as in football, we all go through highs and lows.
“We can all sometimes feel anxious or stressed.
“At moments even the little things can seem a struggle.
“But we can all start to change things.
“Every Mind Matters and Heads Up will show you the simple steps you can take to look after your mental health - helping to boost your mood, improve your sleep and feel ready for life’s ups and downs.”
A national YouGov survey commissioned by PHE shows that men are less likely than women to seek help or take self-care actions for early signs of common mental health concerns.