Jason Kelvin is the project lead on Arsenal’s Imagine Your Goals project, and says that football was a lifeline for him during his recovery from depression.
“If you saw me back then, you’d have thought I had everything: a job as a fashion photographer, money, mates. I was a bit of a jack the lad – or that’s the image I projected to the world. But that was only half the story – I had been diagnosed with chronic depression as a teenager and had coped with it in silence as I didn’t want to be labelled.
Then I had a breakdown. It wasn’t dramatic, but manifested itself gradually over time until eventually I became a prisoner in my own home. I felt unable to speak to anyone, isolated and suicidal.
I ended up seeing a counsellor who asked me about my interests. I told him about how I enjoyed football and keeping fit, and it’s at this point that my life changed. I was encouraged to join a football project for men with mental health problems. At first I was a bit nervous about going – I didn’t want to be around a bunch of ‘nutcases’. But in those two-hour football sessions I was able to be myself for the first time. I didn’t have to pretend to be OK. I could just be me. I was proud to admit ‘I’m Jason and I have a mental health problem.’ On the pitch I could lose my temper and shout and scream
– it was good for letting go of some of the tension.
It’s not for everyone but it worked for me. When I started feeling better, I became an ambassador and started talking about my experience, to help change people’s perceptions of mental illness.
The football project has given me a second chance. I went from being a service user to being a coach, and now I run the project at Arsenal. I use football as a way of maintaining my own mental wellbeing and helping others, and feel I’ve been given a great opportunity to do something positive.”