Health | From schizophrenia to social anxiety, ‘football addresses it all’

As similar programs in Italy have discovered (see 12 Jan 07), a London football league presents “regular, constant, holistic treatment” for those afflicted with mental health problems ranging from schizophrenia to social anxiety (Angus Watson, “More Than a Game,” Financial Times, Mar 22).

Players for Hackney FC congratulate each other after winning the World Mental Health Day Cup. (© Positive Mental Attitude League)

Created in 2005 by Janette Hynes, an occupational therapist at Homerton University Hospital, the Positive Mental Attitude League features 11 teams in two divisions. Thumbnail tales from Hynes’s own team, Hackney FC, illustrate the benefits. Albert Dias, originally from Goa in India, has been shunted among treatment programs for schizophrenia; at a recent training, he noted that, without football, his day might have been spent alone watching television. He has also lost 20lbs since joining the side, as he told the Times last year: “The team has given me confidence, self-belief, happiness and motivation. It’s helped me to move away from paranoia, to move forward, and it’s kept me fit” (Anjana Ahuja, “How Football Made Us Sane,” 13 Jun 07).

A former player for the women’s teams at Arsenal and Chelsea as well as the England U16s, Hailey White tells the FT that she has been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety. “I come across quite well but I’m screaming inside,” she says. She was named player of the tournament at the recent World Mental Health Day Cup.

The program has evolved since Hynes started approaching the FA and individual clubs for support. A former player herself with Fulham, she has had to overcome stigmas against mental illness to achieve a league structure. Her organizing efforts began in 2001 with games of five-a-side among staff and clients at Homerton Hospital. “What I’ve done with football,” she says, “is show them that their lives aren’t finished if they’ve got mental health problems.”

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  1. Overcome says:

    Great article. I’ve always been a big proponent of using games to overcome social-anxiety disorder. They instill confidence, and that transfers into other social situations in life. The disorder can be reversed, it just takes time and effort.

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