Chaplain praises Everton FC’s mental health initiative
Westminster’s diocesan Chaplain for Sport has heaped praise on Everton Football Club after it revealed plans to provide mental health care in the shadows of Goodison Park.
The Merseyside team made the announcement as it launched a campaign for a purpose-built facility and now Mgr Vladimir Felzmann is urging other sport teams to follow suit.
The club and its official charity, ‘Everton in the Community’ hope to raise money through a fundraising drive for a permanent facility called The People’s Place.
The centre, which the club hope will be built next to community centre the People’s Hub on Spellow Lane in Liverpool just 500 metres from the Goodison Park ground, would be open to anyone and provide support relating to suicide awareness and prevention, as well as promoting positive mental health.
Mgr Felzmann, who is also CEO of the John Paul II Foundation for Sport, commended Everton as “a role model for other clubs”.
“Sport is a metaphor for life,” he told The Catholic Universe. “Everything learnt through sport can be applied to lives lived off the pitch, court or running track.”
The chaplain pointed out that mental illness is currently viewed in the same way HIV/AIDS was 30 years ago – “shrouded by stigma” – and recommended that having sport stars open up about their own struggles may prove to be crucial in breaking the notion of it being taboo.
“My priestly pastoral experiences have taught me that depression, including post-natal depression, is a killer,” he said. “The work Everton are doing will help people admit they have a problem. Doing that is well over halfway to finding a cure for their depression – or their mental-illness addiction to gambling, alcohol or drugs.
“Elite sportsman and women are role models for so many people who dream to be like them. Perhaps they can tackle their own still secret mental issues by admitting they need help,” he added.
Last year former England winger Aaron Lennon, then playing for Everton, spent time on the sidelines as he received treatment for a stress-related illness at The Priory in Darlington and Altrincham, and also at Salford Royal Hospital.
He later thanked fans and the club for their support “after a difficult period”.
The new campaign, which has the backing of the first team squad, will also see all of the club’s staff given accredited training to educate them on mental health, how best to identify if someone is struggling and where and how to signpost them to support.
‘Everton in the Community’ already runs mental health-focused programmes and services across Merseyside.
Club manager Marco Silva said: “Since the first day I arrived at the club, everyone talked to me about the Everton Family.
“We are more than just a club, we are a family. We want to keep creating this fantastic connection between us and our fans and all of the community.
“We want to support them, and we want to give them something back.
“This People’s Place project is important to us as a club. Me and my staff are here to support and do everything we can.”
Photo: A general view of the stadium before a Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool.Tags: Aaron Lennon, Chaplain for Sport, Everton Football Club, Everton in the Community, Goodison Park, John Paul II Foundation for Sport, Marco Silva, mental health, Mgr Vladimir Felzmann