Remembering ex-Sheffield United manager Gary Speed and the importance of talking about mental health

This weekend marks 10 years since Gary Speed's death, and the anniversary is a reminder for many of the importance of talking about mental health.

By Lisa Wong
Friday, 26th November 2021, 3:30 pm

The ex-Sheffield United manager was known for being an international football star, having played for various clubs over the years including the Blades. In 2011 he died of suicide aged 42.

Those who knew and admired Gary have been paying their respects on social media on what will be the 10h anniversary of his death, and it has opened up the conversation surrounding men’s mental health in particular.

The founder and director of Space to Breathe, Andy Freeman, said: “It’s always been difficult for men to share, and there could be many reasons for that. Whether it be cultural pressure, perceived weakness - some roots are a little harder. Many people are suffering quietly.”

Gary Speed played for Sheffield United, Everton, Newcastle, Leeds and Bolton. Photo credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Space to Breathe is a Sheffield-based community interest company which uses the arts, positive psychology and non-religious spirituality to support people with their mental health and well-being.

Andy highlighted the significance of Gary Speed’s story ‘sticking in people’s minds’.

With the approaching of Christmas and the pressures of winter, people’s mental health challenges may be more apparent and this is reflected in the current demand for mental health support services.

Andy advises that ‘the more we talk about it, the better’.

Co-director and founder of Space to Breathe, Andy Freeman. Picture: Chris Etchells

Andy said: “If there’s just one person you can turn to - it may seem like a small step but it makes a difference.

“Try to recognise that not everyone responds to mental health challenges in the same way. If you want to do it anonymously you can contact the Samaritans for example. There are also many online resources, there’s a football group at Sheffield Flourish, for something creative there’s Space to Breathe. Find the right language to suit you.

“Remember that you are not alone. There may be other people going through something similar who may understand. Talking to others and sharing experiences can help.”

Space to Breathe offers a number of mental health ‘check in’ sessions, where support and signposting to other services is available.

Some of the Space to Breathe team. Picture: Chris Etchells

The team currently sees more male clients, suggesting that it is a group that is beginning to be more open to talking about their mental health.

Andy believes having male role models, such as cricketer Ben Stokes, sharing their stories may be having a positive impact.

This partly inspired the launch of Space to Breathe’s One4Another campaign, which encourages the sharing of stories and experiences.

Andy has shared his own story and talking about the stranger who helped him at his time in need, he said: “I’m very grateful to that person because that little step calmed me and enabled me to know what was going on.”

That conversation was the first step on his journey to recovery and he urges anyone struggling to ‘talk to someone’ but is aware that there are still challenges.

He explained: “We’re better at talking about some mental health issues than others, like anxiety and depression. For serious mental health issues, not so much, for example, paranoia.

“Seeing a GP or counsellor is also still a difficult step for some.”

If you or someone you know needs support, contact Samaritans on 116 123, email [email protected] or visit here. 

For more information about Space to Breathe, visit here.