By Arnold Adja
Sports, music, and all art forms dominate our everyday lives. Whether for the athlete, artist, or the fan, these forms of expression represent outlets that allow people to get away–to forget about their problems.
Even those who don’t live in close proximity of their favorite teams can join supporter groups or meet up on match days at a bar to share their mutual passion. It’s a way for some to be a part of “something”–a movement, a group. Friendships are made. Chants are sung. In turn, a synergy is created. But as beneficial and therapeutic as they can be, there’s a limit to their healing powers.
Sports remain scarred by a machismo culture. For example, many soccer clubs around the world still have ultra supporter groups and, despite efforts, hooliganism is still very much prevalent. Under the group spotlight, people don’t want to seem vulnerable because: “mental health is taboo.”
A few years ago my favorite podcast joined forces with the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) in the United Kingdom to help fight against depression and raise mental health awareness. The numbers make for a grim viewing. In 2014, male suicide accounted for 76 percent of all suicides, and was the single biggest cause of death in men.
Unfortunately, this issue is not reserved to males or the United Kingdom. Depression and suicide are global epidemics. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest report from October 2015 reveals that “an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide. More women are affected by depression than men.”
Alas, people either do not recognize or do not seek help for their depression. They may be reluctant to talk about how they’re feeling. Sure, prevention programs have been successful in curbing depression – thanks in part to the creation of school-based programs that promote positive thinking–but it isn’t enough.
In sports, despite the sense of solidarity and camaraderie offered by the supporter groups, many of their members suffer in silence. The best form of treatment remains the “arm around the shoulder.”
That is what a real supporter does! It’s important to ask loved ones how they’re doing – and to offer them support. Tell them you love them. Listen carefully. Never ignore. Encourage. The next time you cross people in the street, smile at them – it might make their day. That’s what a supporter does!