|Mental health and wellbeing was a big focus at our Jewson Live event at the end of last year. The discussion was hosted by Clive Johnson, the chair of the Health in Construction Leadership Group. On the panel were Russell Stilwell who’s a Mates in Mind ambassador; Dave Lee, author of the Hairy Arsed Builder’s Guide to Stress Management; and Robbie Savage who’s recently opened up about his own mental health issues. BOB caught up with Robbie after the event.
Why do you think it’s so important for people to talk about their mental health and open up?
I was the type of person who’s always happy and smiley on the outside, but when you get in your house and close the door, that becomes the real you. I didn’t like to burden my wife or my family with my problems. It was hard enough for my wife, being married to a footballer who was so stressed thinking about his performances, the last thing I wanted to do was to burden her with my problems – especially as she was also bringing up the kids.
But it was important for me to open up about the feeling of insecurity and at times, hopelessness, and worrying about when my career as a footballer was going to end. I have a doctor friend who I speak to regularly and when you talk to people you do get things off your chest. People do bottle things up and that’s the worst thing you can do because then things get 100 times worse.
Everyone here works in the construction industry which is hugely male dominated: it’s the same in football. How difficult is it to get over that bravado and deal with your feelings?
It’s quite difficult; there are big characters in football. But as a player, if I had a broken leg or when I broke my neck playing for Birmingham, people could see that was physical. I got sympathy and everyday people asked how I was. But when you bottle feelings up, people can’t actually see what’s wrong. If at any point you believe you can’t go on you have to speak about it.
How important is it for you to take on this ambassadorial role around mental health?
It’s hugely important. Freddie Flintoff and I have a podcast and we’ve done a mental health episode and the amount of emails and messages we had from people who’ve been in very similar circumstances, who were scared to talk was incredible. They didn’t believe that two people in our situations could suffer from mental health issues. But it goes to show if you’ve got £1 in the bank or a million, everyone can be affected.
The good thing for me is being able to talk about it and that helps other people. And it’s quite humbling to think that as a footballer I wasn’t the most liked and people would think they could kick a man when he’s down. But since I’ve started speaking about it the amount of help and love that people have given back has been quite humbling.
If there was one person reading this who’s struggling, what advice would you give to them?
I would say talk. Sometimes it’s difficult to speak to a family member because you don’t want to burden them with your problems. Just speak to anybody you can. If I’d have spoken to my wife she would have been so helpful and supportive, but I found a neutral person in a doctor I have a close relationship with from one of my football clubs. But the most important thing is to open up to anybody who you can confide in. Don’t feel less of a person for doing it.
In need of support or just want to know more? You can find Mates in Mind here: https://www.matesinmind.org/