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Aug 3, 2021

FIFA launches #ReachOut campaign for mental health

Foreign Affairs News Desk
A crowd watching a football game inside Wembley Stadium in England. File photo: Mitch Rosen
A crowd watching a football game inside Wembley Stadium in England. File photo: Mitch Rosen

The world football body, FIFA, launched a UN-backed campaign on Monday designed to raise awareness of potentially damaging mental health issues, and encourage people everywhere to seek help when they need it.

The #ReachOut campaign, has teamed up with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the influential Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to underscore how important it is to spot symptoms of deteriorating mental health early.

In a joint press release with WHO, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said, “This campaign is very important in raising awareness about mental health conditions and encouraging a conversation which could save a life.

“In FIFA’s Vision 2020-2023, we pledge our commitment to make football work for society, and I thank the players and Ms. Enke, who have contributed to this important initiative.

“Depression and anxiety affect rising numbers of people worldwide, and young people are among the most vulnerable. Having a conversation with family, friends or a healthcare professional, can be key. FIFA is proud to launch this campaign, supported by WHO and ASEAN to encourage people to #ReachOut.”

The campaign features some of soccer’s most legendary players, including Aline, Vero Boquete, Cafu, Laura Georges, Luis García, Shabani Nonda, Patrizia Panico, Fara Williams and Walter Zenga.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is as important as ever to look after our mental and physical health,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization. “WHO is delighted to support the #ReachOut campaign, spearheaded by FIFA, to encourage people to talk about their mental health.”

FIFA.com also highlights the former Bolton Wanderers and Team GB forward, Marvin Sordell, and Sonny Pike, who at 14, were labelled the ‘next big thing’, about their experiences living and playing with depression.

Teresa Enke also discusses the pain of losing a loved one to suicide, and her work with the Robert Enke Foundation.

Depression affects more than 260 million people in the world while around half of all mental health conditions start by the age of 14, according to the news release. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in young people aged 15-29.

Among active football players, 23 per cent report suffering from disturbed sleep, while nine per cent have reported depression and a further seven per cent, suffer from anxiety.

Among retired players, these figures increase, with 28% struggling to sleep and depression and anxiety affecting 13% and 11% respectively, said FIFA.

Working from home, unemployment, school closures and social isolation have affected people around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic; the challenges for people with mental health conditions, for whom access to treatment has, in many cases, been disrupted, are even greater.

The video awareness campaign features former greats, current players and special guests, who have lent their support to this mental health campaign, and at times sharing their lived experience.

Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi said, “Mental health and well-being are just as important as physical health and safety. Under the Chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam, ASEAN is taking steps to advance cooperation with external partners on mental health, in order to provide the ASEAN Community with the necessary and appropriate mental health and psychosocial support services.”

Back in 2019, WHO and FIFA signed a four-year collaboration to promote healthy lifestyles through football globally.

The two organisations jointly launched a campaign to combat COVID-19 in March 2020, to share advice on effective measures to protect people, followed by the #BeActive campaign the following month, to encourage people to stay healthy at home during the pandemic. Next came the #SafeHome campaign launched to support those at risk from domestic violence.

More recently, the two organisations teamed up at the FIFA Club World Cup to #ACTogether to promote the need for fair access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics, and to encourage people to keep practicing life-saving, every day public health measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and to protect health.

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