Former Sheffield Wednesday stars open up on mental health issues as coronavirus crisis takes hold

A group of ex-footballers, including four former Sheffield Wednesday stars, are teaming up to share their experiences of mental health issues as the coronavirus crisis continues to affect some of the nation’s most vulnerable people.

Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 5:00 pm

Chris Kirkland, Mark Crossley, Nigel Jemson and Dean Windass are among the star names to have come together to form to WATCH (Walking And Talking Charity Hikes), a charity hoping to support people suffering from mental health issues.

The group takes its name from Crossley’s recently-discovered love of walking, a passion he documents with self-shot videos on social media.

Together with Windass and Kirkland in particular, his social media activity has been praised in recent weeks as the coronavirus crisis continues to take hold, encouraging people to speak out about any difficulties they are facing.

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Statistics taken from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) said 47 per cent of people had reported “high levels” of anxiety since lockdown measures were announced by the Government last month.

Over four in five of people surveyed – 84 per cent – said they were worried about the effect the virus is having on their life, while 53 per cent said it was affecting their well-being.

England-capped Kirkland, who made 90 appearances in goal for the Owls between 2012 and 2015, has long been a passionate advocate for mental health having spoken about his struggles with anxiety, which started during his time at Hillsborough.

He is an ambassador for Yapa, an app that supports those in need of mental health support and that has seen an incredible 700 per cent increase in use over the past few weeks.

Former Sheffield Wednesday figures Chris Kirkland and Dean Windass are part of a new charity hoping to make a difference in the world of mental health support.

“It’s difficult because of the situation we can’t do as much as we’d like to do at the minute when people maybe need it most,” he told The Star.

“I’ve definitely had more calls and messages in the last few weeks. I’ve been FaceTiming people and just talking things through with them, talking about my experience and trying to help. I’ll continue to do that because apart from anything else as much as it helps them, it helps me as well.

“You’ve got to try to fill your days with something positive and it’s been absolutely amazing the last few days, speaking to some of the guys I’ve spoken to, they’ve made my day some of them.”

Windass, father of current Owls loanee Josh, played a handful of games in a month-long loan at Hillsborough in 2001.

His own brand of daily videos, also posted on social media, encourage people to get up and make their bed every morning and discuss any issues they’re experiencing. It’s a style of honest discussion about mental health not always associated with men of his background – working-class, northern – but it's one he tackles openly.

Also speaking to The Star, Windass said he was struggling with life in isolation, which he is spending with his girlfriend in Hull.

“I’ve got a picture at home of my dad and sometimes it’ll catch my eye and I’ll just burst out into tears,” he said. “I don’t know the reason why it happens, but it’s been happening a bit more.

“These people who suffer every single day and that are vulnerable, imagine not being able to get out. It’s impossible for them.

“If you’ve got a phone, it’s so important if you can to FaceTime somebody or Skype somebody, whatever you can do. We’re all in the same boat.

“We’ve all got to get through this together. Some days it’s good for me and some days it’s bad. I express my feelings and I’m comfortable with that now.

“It’s not a thing of feeling sorry for Dean Windass, it’s not about me. I’m just one of the millions of people who have suffered or who are struggling with mental health problems.”

The WATCH charity is awaiting full ratification as those involved have been yet to attend finalising meetings at the bank.

But big plans are afoot, with rumours of a television documentary in the offing next year along with a hike up what Crossley has described as ‘a bloody big hill’.

It’s a potentially very powerful group that started from humble beginnings. Kirkland said: “We all got talking about it and a little WhatsApp group got started with ideas being thrown around. There are loads of us in it now.

“We’ve got big plans and there’s going to be a charity event, but it will be next year now, obviously once we get up and running. There are lots of ideas bouncing around.

“It’s on hold but once we get the go-ahead there are going to be some amazing events, a lot of charity games and so on to raise as much money as possible. A lot of the money will now go to the NHS as well for the incredible job they’re doing.

“They’re all brilliant lads but the biggest thing is that they’re all wanting to help other people and share their experiences. I’m delighted to be a part of it.”

Windass extended a message to anyone struggling. “Please speak out if you are in trouble. I’m terrified about the number of suicides in these few weeks and months. People can’t cope with life when the chips are down.

“I’m not earning any money at the minute and that’s tough, I’m relying on my missus. We’re keeping our heads above water at the minute. That’s a massive issue for so many people less fortunate than me.

“Everybody needs to help each other. Everybody needs everybody else at this moment in time. And hopefully, this can be used to bring everybody together.”