When YGAM ambassador Marvin Sordell decided to tell his personal story and speak publicly about his own mental health struggles, he started a much-needed conversation in football.

The subject of mental health in football has been described as a “stigma” in the sport. However a study from players’ union Fifpro’s found that  professional footballers suffer more from symptoms of depression and anxiety than the general public.

To many football fans, Marvin Sordell’s decision to retire at the age of 28 while fully fit appeared perplexing. However, Marvin had decided his concerns for his own mental wellbeing were more important than anything on the pitch. His long-term battles with anxiety and depression had previously led to a suicide attempt in 2013.

Since stepping away from football, former Watford striker Marvin has used his profile to raise awareness of mental health issues and the support available to people who may be struggling. Speaking to YGAM about the current culture associated with mental health, he said: “Pretending you’re fine all the time is what people call a strong mentality. In my opinion, to have a tough mentality is to be very honest with who you are and where you are at. If you ignore and bury things, then that is not being strong or tough.”

“Essentially, you are being weak because you are pretending these things don’t exist even though we all have emotions. We will forever have emotions so why do we ignore them. We pretend that they are not there. Why does that culture exist that we should just suppress them?”

Marvin was recently part of the nationwide Heads Up initiative led by the FA and The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, which created a combined campaign to tackle stigma and change the conversation on mental health with fundraising for a series of innovative new mental health services.

Marvin with the Duke of Cambridge

Marvin will now use his lived experience to help inform the work of YGAM. He said: “I can only speak from a very authentic point of view, which I guess is one of the reasons people listen to me in terms of the things I have to say around wellbeing and mental health topics. I speak on this a lot and of course this is something that impacts that. It’s about making people aware that one thing can lead to another and understand how they can manage it and look after it. I don’t think people realise just how much it impacts us just the same as our physical health.”

When asked by YGAM’s Education Manager Sam Starsmore for any advice for a young person who may be struggling with their mental health, Marvin responded with the message: “Reach out to someone and speak to them. That’s always the piece of advice I give to anybody. Just speak to one person. It could be a friend, a family member, a colleague, a stranger, a helpline, whoever it may be.”

“I think one thing we like to do as human beings is to carry our emotions and carry our burdens ourselves. Just speaking to someone can offload that and enable them to give you some outside perspective on your situation, which is so difficult to do when you are trying to do it yourself. Someone just listening to you and reflecting on what you say can give you hope for whatever that situation is.”

According to the charity Mind, mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. It does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of your age, gender, geography, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion/spirituality, sexual orientation, background or other aspect of cultural identity.

Marvin Sordell also serves as an ambassador for the mental health charity CALM.

Heads Together’s charity partners can offer someone to talk to. Find out more about the support and services available on their Get Support page.

If you need urgent help, you can call Samaritans on 116 123. They’re available to offer support 24/7 every single day of the year.

If you need immediate support, you can also text SHOUT to 85258 anytime day or night and chat by text to share what is worrying you.