Why is ‘A Royal Team Talk’ so important to watch?

The BBC One programme ‘A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health’ is not a rare show in terms of making an impression on me, with me wanting to discuss it with others whether that be online or in person, but it was a rare show in terms of what it was aiming to do. I believe that it has the potential to have a long-lasting impact on the discussion about mental health in general, and more specifically male mental health because of its focus on football and the people who were involved in the show. I also believe that this programme is so important to watch because of what it can do with the attention it can provide to, as well as the understanding it can have on mental health in society as a whole.

On Sunday 19th May 2019, I knew there was a programme I had to watch live. So often nowadays I, like many others, watch television shows as and when I have time and eventually get round to it. There are not many things that should or need to be watched live, but sometimes there are programmes that are too important to leave in the awaiting list of the seemingly never-ending ‘must-see’ TV shows we are now so accustomed to. This show first got my attention because of two of my favourite topics – mental health and football. Mental health is something I feel passionate about and want to keep exploring and discussing in whatever way possible, whereas football has always been part of my life, whether it be cheering on England in the World Cup semi-final, or playing Fantasy Football and keeping an eye on the goings on in the Premier League and beyond. However, even more of a reason for my interest in this programme came from the people that were involved in it. Alongside four male football fans who were also on the programme talking about their own experiences with mental health, there were six highly influential people, which I think was the key to getting the message the show was aiming to get across:

  • HRH The Duke of Cambridge.
  • Gareth Southgate – the current England manager, managing the team to their first World Cup semi-final in nearly 30 years in 2018. For many years, Gareth was widely known for his missed penalty in Euro 96, but he has now created a whole new approach to how to tackle a competition campaign (and it’s working so far!)
  • Peter Crouch – ex-England striker and current Burnley footballer, widely known for his ‘Robot’ dance.
  • Thierry Henry – Arsenal legend and World Cup winner with France in 1998.
  • Jermaine Jenas – Former Tottenham Hotspur footballer and current football pundit with shows such as Match of the Day.
  • Danny Rose – An England World Cup semi-finalist in 2018, and current Tottenham Hotspur player.

All six of these people, alongside the presenter Dan Walker, sat down and talked about their experiences with mental health. As a viewer, it didn’t seem like there was any kind of script to go from, and they were all free to talk about their own experiences in their own words. For any football fan, I think it probably made you think about the effects of what happens on the pitch, or more so in the stands and beyond, can have on players. Whether it is the detrimental songs being sung in the crowd, or a public backlash from a missed penalty or a handball incident, it can deeply affect how the person it is aimed at feels, which as the Duke of Cambridge pointed out, can then lead to a snowball effect if an original problem, whatever that may be, is not addressed.
In the lead up to the 2018 World Cup, Danny Rose spoke publicly about being diagnosed with depression, something which Gareth Southgate hailed at the time as being brave, and in the documentary, he also spoke about it being a strength. However, there are not many moments anymore when I watch a show and am genuinely shocked by what I see or hear, but when Danny Rose subsequently said that he had been talking to another club and they had asked to see him to check that he ‘wasn’t crazy’, my mouth fell open in astonishment. That comment alone is why this programme is a must-see for everyone, or at least those who still do not yet understand mental health. The reactions from the other six people sitting alongside him said it all; it was a shocking comment to say. A comment like this fuels the need for television shows such as ‘A Royal Team Talk’ to be made, and as the Duke of Cambridge also said, a conversation has to be started to begin to end the stigma of talking about mental health.
As a viewer, I sat there watching the show in awe of these people not only because they talked so openly about their experiences and how they had felt in their lives, but because I am sure they know the impact their words will have on starting to change the stigma of mental health. Like with any person who people look up to, if someone with a status can talk about their own mental health experiences, then it allows the people who look up to them to also think that they can talk about it themselves.

When suicide is the most common cause of death for men in England and Wales aged between 20 years and 49 years, male mental health, especially, is something that needs to carry on being addressed within society. Although football is finally being seen as a female sport as well, I think that using it as a backdrop to talk about mental health reinforces how important reducing the stigma is. Football is a common sport for men to both watch and play, and by using high profile current and ex-professionals to talk about mental health, we can start to carve away at the barriers many men (and women) put up to make out that they are OK when they are maybe in fact struggling with their mental health. However, I think the most important reason why ‘A Royal Team Talk’ is so important to watch is because of the many positive messages it sends out; talking about what you are going through is what is going to help, and talking about mental health is a strength not a weakness.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach