Over the last couple of months there has been a rise in Mental Health awareness in the Football Manager community. With many communities now opening spaces for their members to talk about the subject and several respected creators discussing these issues, we asked specialists on the matter for their take.
Who are our experts?
Pelham is from the UK. He has a PhD in Psychology, with a specialism in Cyberpsychology (or online psychology, technology and psychology). He has been lecturing undergraduates and postgraduates for almost 10 years.
Mikael is from Sweden. He’s got his Bachelor of Medicine degree in 2015 and is currently a resident in Psychiatry. He has 5 years of clinical experience.
They’re both members of the Dictate the Game team and regulars of the FM online community.
What is mental health?
‘Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices’, says Mikael. ‘We used to talk about mental illness, so conditions and issues that were being experienced and were seen as being detrimental’, adds Pelham. ‘Now the focus is on how to maintain mental health, much like physical health. So as well as considering things that can be harmful to us or affect us negatively the focus is also on what we can do to stay well; self care, meditation, therapy, seeking social support, etc. Mental health covers the psychological, the social and the emotional. How we think, interact and feel essentially’.
What is depression?
‘Typically clinical depression (or a major depressive episode) is a low mood for a prolonged period of time that results in withdrawal socially, less engagement, not enjoying tasks you had previously enjoyed’, says Pelham. ‘It is often accompanied by a negative view of the self, the world and the future and can include fatigue, and in some cases thoughts of death or suicide. There are, however, other forms of depression as well that can include manic phases (manic or bipolar), or grumbling or persistent depression (dysthymia).’
‘Depression affects people in different ways and presents with a wide array of symptoms’, Mikael points out. ‘The symptoms persist for weeks or months and are bad enough to interfere with your work, social life and family life’.
Is everyone as likely to suffer from mental health issues during their life?
‘The simple answer to this question is no’, says Mikael. ‘Both environmental and hereditary factors determine the likelihood of a person suffering mental health issues; the factors are many and varied’. Pelham adds: ‘Whilst mental health issues can be more common than some realise, how likely someone is to be affected can be dependant on a range of factors. Age, gender and culture for example can have a big impact on prevalence rates. Sometimes family history is thought to have an impact’.
How can we tell if ourselves or a loved one might be suffering from depression? What can we do if we can’t reach a professional for help?
‘There are potential signs’, says Pelham, ‘but it’s important to note that these can vary’. ‘Pay attention to individuals that seem low, withdrawn socially, have stopped doing things they used to enjoy, sleeping a lot more, for a prolonged period of time (usually more than 2 weeks). If you’re worried then talk to them, ask them how they are doing, listen to them. There are charities and organisations that you can talk to that can send helpful information. If you are worried in the short term that they might try to harm themselves then you contact your local health services’.
‘I would look through a list of symptoms and see if my loved one was displaying several of these symptoms. Has their sleeping pattern changed? Their behaviour? Their willingness to do things? Talk to them’ says Mikael. ‘Ask how they are doing and present them with an environment where they don’t feel shamed. If it’s you that are suffering from signs of depression, reach out! Talk to someone, and tell them how you feel. Sometimes you feel better simply by sharing your feelings and thoughts with someone else.
Is the treatment the same for everyone? When would you suggest a person to go and speak to a psychologist?
‘There are several treatment options’, points out Mikael. ‘The most common ones are anti-depressant medication and psychological therapy, sometimes in combination’.
‘For different individuals and different conditions/situations you will find different treatment plans’ says Pelham. ‘Treatment may change over time and be combined with a range of approaches. Also, different health services might favour different approaches (group CBT for example)’.
‘If you think you might be suffering from symptoms of depression, I suggest you talk to doctor a and/or psychologist’, adds Mikael. ‘Together with them form a plan regarding treatment that suits you’.
What can we do if we feel the treatment might not be working for us?
‘Talk to the professional who prescribed the treatment and explain to them why you feel that the treatment might not be working for you’, advises Mikael. ‘Is there a lack of effects or are you suffering adverse effects? Are you feeling effects on certain symptoms but not others? If you have been prescribed medication, is there a possibility to change dosage or try another pharmaceutical? Sometimes you can switch to or add another medication to target certain symptoms. For example if you’re experiencing trouble sleeping or anxiety’. Pelham remarks: ‘Never change or discontinue treatment without discussing this with a healthcare professional’.
How does confinement during the quarantine relate with mental health problems?
‘There are three particular areas that quarantine can have a real impact on people’, says Pelham, ‘changing social support, changing routine, and introducing stressors. These might not sound like a big deal, but they can be an integral part of how we monitor and maintain our own mental health’.
‘We are social creatures by and large and as a result we use socialising to feel good as well as to help with problems; from reducing stress and anxiety by doing something fun with friends or sharing a meal with family, to more direct forms like discussing something that is having an impact on your mental health with somone. Social support has the function of helping to reduce and regulate stress and anxiety. With quarantine, that social contact has been removed or limited for a lot of people whilst as the same time upping stress’.
‘Changes in routune can be really disruptive. They can make us feel unsure, less productive and have direct knock on effects with sleep. Most of us have a routine, and we generally can handle some change to that. The quarantine and lockdown, however, has been a pretty huge transformation to work patterns, sleep patterns, homelife and even how/when we engage with our family and friends’.
‘Quarantine and Lockdown have also introduced stressors. There’s the thread of COVID, worries about becoming ill or those family and friends that are unwell or vulnerable, and work stress. For a lot of people it is a very uncertain time when it comes to work and finances, and those are two major sources of stress and potential triggers for other mental health issues’.
If I started experiencing mental health issues during the quarantine, does it mean they could have been hidden before?
‘It would be strange for us not to experience strong emotions under these extreme conditions’, says Mikael. ‘The lockdowns, quarantines, and the myriad of other disruptions can lead to alienation’.
‘Most people experience mental health issues at some point’ adds Pelham. ‘However there are theories that some people are predisposed to certain conditions. That doesn’t mean they will develope these issues but that under the right (or wrong) circumstances they could. For example an individual might have a predisposition to depression and never develop it because the stress or trigger for it doesn’t occur. For some, the stress or issues related to COVID and lockdowns could have acted as the trigger.
‘Life will get better!’, continues Mikael. ‘Let’s encourage people to hope, pray, and use relaxation techniques and guided imagery approaches to help control anxiety, worry, stress, and issues related to PTSD. These approaches can give our minds and bodies periods of relaxation and recovery, and ultimately, they can calm our minds’.
How does gaming relate to mental health? What can we do if we feel our gaming might be affecting our mental health?
‘Gaming cuts in two potential ways for mental health’, says Pelham. ‘Early research around gaming centred on violence; it suggest gamers become more violent or at least desensitised to violence because of games. However, more modern research suggests that isn’t the case. Instead, it hints that games can have more positive impacts like improving memory and reaction/processing times’.
‘Games have a huge social side as well, so they can be really good for socialising and improving mental health. They can also help people connect despite geographic or practical boundaries. It can also be a source of social support if you game online or share your gaming, and it can reduce stress and anxiety and be a source of escapism’.
‘However, where excessive amounts of time are spent playing games it becomes case of problematic gaming, and potential addiction. This can cause negative consequences for work/school/home life and socialising, changing mood and behaviour’.
‘Gaming can both be a symptom of a decline in mental health, as well as a means to cope with it’, points out Mikael. ‘It can be harmful if you spend too much time doing it or if you spend money you don’t have on it. But it can also be used to relax, to take your mind of stressful things.
‘If you feel your gaming could be affecting your mental health, personal steps could involve monitoring your gaming time more’, suggests Pelham, ‘setting up schedules and plans so real life is dealt with first. But as with most things the first thing you could really do is talk to somebody about it. Whether that is a friend, family or a contact from an organisation or charity. Talking first can help get you the support you need’.
Why do so many FM players feel as though they need to create content? Why do they feel as though they need to apologise when this doesn’t happen? What goes on in their heads?
‘It could be the idea of a social contract, points out Pelham. ‘Or something known as the imaginary audience – the idea that you are being watched by lots of people except in this case they actually are. As people have invested time in watching them they may feel they owe a certain amount back by way of content or explanation.
‘Several content creators both identify with their work’, suggest Mikael, ‘and take pride in creating content. Getting positive feedback and recognition for your content may strengthen your self-esteem and sense of self worth. When you don’t produce any content you don’t get that positive feedback. By apologising for the lack of it you might hope for a bit of positive feedback to fill that void’.
Huge thanks to Pelham and Mikael for taking the time to answer our questions.
Useful links and contact numbers
Phone: 116 123 (free 24-hour helpline)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Phone: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (confidential and toll-free call, available 24/7)
Phone: 1300 22 4636 (available 24/7, local phone cost)
Australian Governament Department of Health
Phone: 131 114