St Mirren manager Jim Goodwin has encouraged his players to use the club’s new mental health support service if they are struggling with the lockdown.
Saints have partnered with the Paisley-based Kibble Group, a child and youth care charity which became a major shareholder in the club earlier this year, to offer all staff online sessions with psychologists as well as access to a confidential phone helpline.
Goodwin knows the unique challenges footballers can face having left his Waterford home as a schoolboy to join Celtic, and he is keen his players have access to support during extraordinary circumstances.
“I moved away from home when I was 15, albeit to do a job I dreamed of doing all my life,” the 38-year-old told the PA news agency.
“But to leave my close-kit family, three brothers and a sister and mum and dad back home, we did everything together, to all of a sudden go across the water and try and fulfil my ambition, you don’t realise at the time but it can have a huge impact on people’s lives.
“I’m very fortunate it hasn’t affected me. I was very fortunate in terms of the people I surrounded myself with when I came to Glasgow, Celtic really looked after me and I got put in digs with like-minded people and always had company.
“But we have got Ilkay Durmus for example, who is over from Germany and there are certain language barriers there. The last thing we want is that he is stuck in a flat in Paisley on his own, and feels as if he can’t speak to anyone. So the fact this service is there is brilliant. We have lads over from Ireland, lads up from England.
“People all over the world struggle at times with mental health and it’s important that the message is to people that it’s OK, you are not alone, and there are people out there willing to help and willing to listen. The more we talk about it, maybe it lifts that stigma.
“The initiative Kibble have brought to the table is a huge positive.”
Kibble chief executive and Saints director Jim Gillespie believes early intervention is key.
“There’s a programme on later with Prince William talking to Frank Lampard and others about how football has changed,” Gillespie said. “I still think there is a distance to travel on that.
“There is a growing number of acute mental health issues in Scotland and I think some of these issues can be helped with support early on.
“Whilst there have been strides made, we should always be pushing boundaries on this and taking away any leftover stigma.
“A lot of people suffer after newborn babies or moving houses or jobs. There is a general stress in life. A footballer’s life is fast-paced and when you come to this time of year and contracts ending, there is a lot of different factors in there.
“But when you have a pandemic and worries about your families or your mum and dad, these layers of stress have the potential to create a need for better services than there have been in normal circumstances.”
The financial aspect is especially difficult for many players who could find themselves out of work with no clubs willing to commit to new deals, and Goodwin is well aware of the anxiety that can cause.
“We are all human and of course it’s a difficult conversation for me to have with players who aren’t getting new contracts, who have been good servants to the club,” the former Alloa boss said.
“It’s never, ever personal, you have to make tough decisions in business and that’s the way I look at it, I try to take the emotion out of it. But it is difficult.
“I have been there myself as a player, I have a wife and three kids who depend on me and if my income was to stop tomorrow, that would obviously add a real level of anxiety and nervousness not knowing where the next wage is going to come from, because the bills all still need to be paid. A huge part of mental health is people’s financial welfare.”
Saints are hoping to use the furlough scheme to give departing players short-term deals.
Gillespie said: “If we can extend contracts and use the furlough system appropriately, then we will. But it is about making sure we are doing the right thing in a legal sense. If furlough is or isn’t an option, then services like this will always be available to these players.”