Blog: Celebrating The Changing Room men

19th November 2021

Almost four years on from the first session of The Changing Room, Christopher Nicholson, Project Manager at SAMH, is reflecting on how far the programme has come as we mark International Men’s Day.

We’re also halfway through Movember, the annual moustache-growing campaign from Changing Room funders Movember, without whom the programme wouldn’t be possible.

Men aren’t good at talking. At least, that’s the premise behind The Changing Room, which has been using the power of football to help support men’s mental health and wellbeing for almost four years.

And it is true – we only have to look at the stats around men’s mental health and suicide rates to see that. But what this programme has shown me is that when the environment is right, and when men feel supported, they’re not just good at talking, they’re actually great at it.

The programme kicked off at Hibernian Football Club in Edinburgh back in 2018, funded by Movember, and delivered by SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health) with support from the SPFL Trust. Less than a year later a second programme followed on the other side of the city at Heart of Midlothian Football Club; and there are now another 19 Scottish clubs who have recently started to deliver the programme, or will be soon. In addition, The Scottish Government has recently recognised the potential of the programme by announcing funding for The Changing Room: Extra Time, an initiative which will build on this by providing an opportunity for individuals to focus on resilience and self-care.

The concept behind The Changing Room is simple. It’s a 12 week programme which sees men in their middle years come together and talk about the thing that connects them – football – but to also get the stuff that’s really bothering them off their chests. And this simple idea is having a real impact.

Looking back on the last four years of the programme, something that really strikes me is how brilliant these men are at supporting one another. Being part of the programme makes them feel like they’re part of a team; and this means that it not just about helping themselves, it’s also about being there for their team mates.  Robert, who attended The Changing Room at Hearts said it best, ‘Early on I remember thinking I’m worth my place in this group, not only is it helping me feel better but I’m going to be part of making other people in this group feel better.’

And that’s what so special about The Changing Room. We’ve seen it happen in Edinburgh, and now we’re seeing these networks of men forming in stadiums across Scotland. Men who are not just being lifted up, but who are helping to lift others up too.

As the programme continues to expand into new stadiums, and grow with the introduction of Extra Time; the participants will be key to success. It will be crucial that we continue to listen to their views and feedback, and incorporate this into the evolution of The Changing Room.

So this International Men’s Day I want to say a huge thank you to all the men of The Changing Room – from those who have been attending since the start, to those who are about to go along to their first session. Taking that first step isn’t easy, but hundreds of you are doing it, and together helping to tackle men’s mental health.

Thank you to Chris for contributing to our blog series. You can find out more about The Changing Room and which clubs are taking part here.