Burnley Football Club stars Aaron Lennon and Ben Mee have helped the club's official charity, Burnley FC in the Community, launch their new Schools’ Mental Well-being Project, which has put a trained Psychological Well-being Practitioner in every secondary school in the town and two in Pendle to help students with mental health issues.
With one in 10 children having a diagnosable mental health disorder but just 25% getting access to the crucial support they require, BFCitC's project will aim to get pupils to open up about mental health to better prevent Adverse Childhood Experiences, which have been proved to have a negative mental and physical impact later in life.
The Psychological Well-being Practitioners (PWPs) have already been working in Unity College, Sir John Thursby High, Burnley High School, Shuttleworth College, West Craven High, Blessed Trinity RC High, and Colne Primet High for four weeks now, so far offering 324 hours of support to almost 100 students, 79% of whom have some form of anxiety and 17% of whom had extreme anxiety.
"I think it's definitely needed; it's great for the kids to have someone in the schools who they can feel comfortable with," said Burnley winger, Aaron Lennon. "It's okay to speak to someone and get help. It's alright not to feel great everyday, so if you need to speak to someone, definitely do.
"I don't think I'd want to go through [what kids these days go through] what with the pressures they have with social media, camera phones, and the stress of school itself," Lennon added. "There's a lot of pressure on them, so to have people who can help them is only going to benefit them."
In 2017 whilst playing for Everton, Lennon was detained by police under the Mental Health Act due to concerns for his welfare, but has since sought treatment and now claims he is "100%" recovered thanks to his on-going work with a therapist.
"It definitely [feels like something personal to me]," Lennon said of the project. "Everyone knows what I went through so I couldn't wait to be involved. I hope [I can be a role model] but it's not really about me. It's okay for kids to feel a bit low, and having people in the schools who they can work with is a great thing."
Highlighting the importance of letting your mates know that they can always talk to you if need be, Burnley defender Ben Mee added: "I've got friends who have had mental health issues [and] talking about it is the best thing to do. Keep being a friend; if they want to talk to you, they will. Let them know you're there for them.
"It's a fantastic scheme: hopefully we can encourage people to speak," Mee continued. "[Mental health] is not an enclosed subject. [At the football club], you want people to be able to talk to you; any of the young lads who are struggling and - as one of the senior pros and captains - want to come and speak to you."
Funded by a wide range of partners including the Premier League, the Professional Footballers’ Association, Burnley Borough Council, East Lancs CCG, and local schools, the project - announced at Shuttleworth College on Tuesday March 12th - is scheduled to run for three years, during which time the University of Central Lancashire will also be conducting an academic evaluation of the scheme.