Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Naomi Girma joins launch of ‘Create the Space’ mental health initiative: ‘Everyone struggles in their own way’

A host of football’s biggest names — including USWNT star Naomi Girma, England international Ben Chilwell and Women’s Super League record scorer Vivianne Miedema — today launched a new player-led mental health initiative called Create the Space. The project, which brings together groups including Common Goal and Football Beyond Borders, aims to use the sport to tackle mental health issues from the highest levels of the professional game to the grassroots.

The initiative is being led by Common Goal, which since its inception in 2017 has drawn more than 250 names from the world of football, who donate a minimum of one percent of their earnings to projects around the world.

Create the Space is launching in both the UK and USA, where Girma will lead the movement. The San Diego Wave star is a vocal advocate for mental health in sport and dedicated her place at this year’s World Cup to Stanford team mate Katie Meyer, who died by suicide at the age of 23. “What I have learned through losing my best friend, is that everyone struggles in their own way, even when it doesn’t seem they are,” said Girma. 

“Suffering doesn’t always look like the way it’s portrayed in the movies. No matter if I am a professional athlete, a student or whatever, making sure that I’m checking in on others and checking in on myself is so important. Create the Space will help people be the best versions of themselves and may even save lives.”

In the U.S., Common Goal will launch a pilot project next year focusing on youth coaches in the most at-risk communities across the country. Create the Space wants football to function as a tool for aiding mental health at grassroots level while the peak of the game becomes ” a space where everyone feels encouraged and comfortable to express themselves both on and off the pitch”.

Earlier in 2023, Chelsea and England defender Chilwell revealed he had been talking to someone about his mental health for “a few years,” something he acknowledges comes with a stigma attached to it in the men’s game in particular. Launching the U.K. initiative, he said, “I have had my own mental health journey and I felt unsure about where to turn to for support. It’s down to our generation to change this and ensure that throughout football, all the way from the elite level to young people in community organizations, we have each other’s backs and we’re equipped with the tools to help ourselves and those around us. 

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“We need to move from talking about mental health to taking action, and Create the Space provides the platform for everyone wishing to take action to play a role in tackling mental health issues, whether they are playing in the Premier League, in the playground, or in the park.”

Joining Chilwell is Tottenham captain Molly Bartrip as well as Arsenal team mates Beth Mead and Miedema, who said: “Where I grew up in the North of Holland, it just wasn’t OK to talk about mental health, it just wasn’t done. Then, when I moved to Germany, when I said I wasn’t feeling so good and needed more time, I was told that I needed to train harder.

“At Arsenal when I had the opportunity to see someone. I was suffering from panic attacks, but even then I still wasn’t sure if I should, as it had never been OK to address my mental health. The proudest moment of my career so far was to take care of myself and look after my mental health, not just the physical. Everybody needs support.”

Former Watford and Burnley striker Marvin Sordell has been at the forefront of the dialogue over mental health in the English game for over half a decade. He believes there have been signs of progress in that time but warned there is much more to be done. “We are moving on from ‘something needs to be done’ to ‘we are doing something’,” he said. 

“The football industry is better equipped than it was 10 years ago in terms of mental health, but it doesn’t mean that we are there. If someone had a broken leg you wouldn’t ignore it and you’d know exactly what needs to be done. Create the Space is the starting point of equipping everyone at every level of football with the ability to understand and manage mental health.”

In the U.K. Common Goal has partnered with organizations including Football Beyond Borders, Street League, Girls United and Bloomsbury Football for a program that will “empower mental health champions” across the sport.

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