Shrewsbury Town's Omar Beckles to focus on mental health as he kicks off new charity
Shrewsbury Town defender Omar Beckles wants everyone to talk about mental health.
It is an issue close to his heart. He has suffered from depression and anxiety in the past and has spoken candidly about the issue. By opening up, he hopes to remove the stigma that still surrounds the problem, especially in male-dominated sports like football.
The 26-year-old was a guest speaker at an event to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, organised by Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin’s Suicide Prevention Network, event which was attended by more than 150 people and organisations.
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Omar talked about the work of his newly formed charity Hub365, set up to help those battling with stress, depression and anxiety. The aim of the foundation is to raise awareness of mental health and make it less of a taboo.
The defender has previously spoken about how he would quietly break down in tears hours after a game and how he would grind and then clench his teeth to the point where Shrewsbury paid for an adequate mouthguard, as the plastic one obtained when he was a player at Accrington on medical advice was no longer sufficient.
The problem is that many players suffer in silence. It is an issue taken on by the Professional Footballers Association, which has dedicated itself to working with footballers who experience mental health difficulties.
The PFA has been addressing issues of emotional well-being and addiction for more than 14 years, and now has a 24/7/365 counselling telephone helpline service available to members.
In addition to the helpline, players past and present can access a national network of 90 fully-trained counsellors, all of whom understand the emotional rollercoaster that involvement in professional sport can entail.
The Football Association is also working closely to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and enable coaches and team mates to feel comfortable talking about mental health problems in the same way they discuss physical injuries.
Omar hopes his foundation will make a difference. He is a devout Christian and feels it is his calling to step up and continue the work of his late father, Linton Charles Beckles, the former singer with Jazz Funk band, Central Line, who died in 2015.
With this in mind he has visited a number of schools and colleges and says the work he is carrying out is very fulfilling.
"I have been working with Shrewsbury in the Community, teaming up together to run a few programmes," he said. "I am hoping to run a programme with a few different aspects to raise the awareness of mental health and get rid of the stigma surrounding it. I will be going in to schools, universities and colleges to give talks."
He says he also hopes to be able to use his position at the football club to raise awareness on match days.
"There will be lots of different things going on," said Omar who hopes to leave a lasting legacy in his father's memory.
"I really want to impact this area and create something that will outlive me, put together a support mechanism that will be there when I am long gone.
“I’m really grateful for Shropshire Council giving me the opportunity to speak at the conference. Hopefully, we can continue to impact on the mental health issues we need to address within Shropshire."
His aim to is get to the younger generation, to raise their awareness of how mental health difficulties can be experienced by anyone. He gave a talk at Shrewsbury Academy earlier this year and was impressed with the reaction of the pupils to his talk.
"By the end of the talk, everyone was aware this was raised and that this is going on around them. There has been that sort of impact and I am hoping for it to be way bigger," he said.
"Things are heading in the right direction. Almost everyone is trying to do their little bit and I want everyone to come together and have a massive impact. What we are hoping is that everyone can collaborate, get all of us together and have a massive impact. Mental health is finally becoming a topic of conversation."
Another local club tackling mental health head on is the JD Welsh Premier League's Newtown AFC.
In recent years, as part of a scheme called We Wear The Same Shirt, the club has held training sessions for people with mental health issues to attend.
People of all ages have been to the club for weekly sessions, and the club even held a large tournament last year, organised by coach Sam Morris.
Attended by former Everton and Wales goalkeeper Neville Southall, who is an ambassador for mental health, the club invited teams from all over the UK to play at the tournament, which was a huge success.
Speaking after last week's collaborative conference, Councillor Lee Chapman, Shropshire Council's Cabinet member for adult social care, health and housing said: “We want to get more people talking about self-harm, suicide and the risk factors associated with suicide in order to remove the stigma and encourage people to seek help when they feel it is needed.
“Our Suicide Prevention Conference provides us with the opportunity to raise awareness that there is support out there and encourage those affected by suicide, to come forward. You are not alone, we are here to help.”
Between 2013 and 2015 there were 131 deaths formally recorded as suicide across Shropshire and Telford. These numbers are likely to be underestimated due to the legal necessities for categorising a suicide death.
Help and advice for those having a mental health crisis is available from a number of agencies in Shropshire.