#Reachout: Breaking Mental Health Barriers through Football and Diversity

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#Reachout: Breaking Mental Health Barriers through Football and Diversity
Myriam Burkhard
Head International Relations and Public Affairs, FIFA
Frank Grothaus
Senior Manager International Relations and Public Affairs, FIFA
Larasati Indrawagita
Senior Officer, Education, Youth and Sports Division, ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Department

FIFA and ASEAN proudly joined forces to launch #ReachOut on 2 August 2021. #Reachout is a “campaign designed to promote healthy lifestyles to help combat the symptoms of mental health conditions, and to encourage people to seek help when they need it.” Football players from all 10 ASEAN Member States lent their positive influence to spread one key message—all good habits keep our minds and bodies healthy and well. 

ASEAN, a dynamic and harmonious community that is aware and proud of its identity, culture, and heritage, keeps exploring ways to innovate and proactively contribute to the global community. Along this line, ASEAN, in the next five years, will strengthen cooperation in sports. It will work to promote an active community that engages in sports, protects integrity in sports, and values sports as an essential means of advancing socio-cultural development and promoting peace. It will be guided by the ASEAN Work Plan on Sports 2021-2025.

Into the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we still struggle to maintain healthy lifestyles—exercising regularly, eating a healthy and balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and connecting with friends and family.  The #Reachout campaign, developed based on the recommendations of the World Health Organization, conveys the healthy lifestyle message in various languages to reach the ASEAN public. The campaign comes at a time when everyone in the ASEAN Community is prioritising mental, emotional and physical well-being. 

ASEAN and FIFA rolled out the #ReachOut campaign as part of the implementation of ASEAN-FIFA Collaboration Plan 2021-2022, a framework adopted by ASEAN sports ministers following the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding between ASEAN and FIFA in 2019. In 2020, ASEAN and FIFA also launched the #BeActive and #FiveSteps campaigns, focusing on the importance of physical activity and as sanitation and hygiene.

During the launch of the #ReachOut campaign, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said FIFA is proud to have partnered with ASEAN on the campaign with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO). “Looking after your mental health is as important as taking care of your physical health. A listening ear could make a huge difference to someone who may be struggling,” he said. Mr. Infantino also said that #ReachOut encourages those who suffer from symptoms to talk to friends, family or a healthcare professional, and to seek support from national helplines. It also urges us all to look out for people close to us who may need help and offer practical advice on how to support those who do.                                                        

Secretary-General of ASEAN Dato Lim Jock Hoi similarly emphasised the importance of mental health and well-being. He said that under the Chairmanship of Brunei Darussalam in 2021, ASEAN took steps to advance cooperation with external partners on mental health, in order to provide the ASEAN community with the necessary and appropriate mental health and psychosocial support services.

In addition to promoting mental health, sports has been instrumental in raising ASEAN awareness, especially among the youth. A study on ASEAN Awareness, Values and Identity, which forms part of the       ASEAN Youth Development Index, revealed that 20 per cent of over 2,000 university students surveyed from the 10 Member States gained awareness of ASEAN through sports. This finding affirms ASEAN sports sector’s endeavour to cultivate ASEAN awareness and culture through regional sports initiatives and major sports events in the next five years.

#ReachOut messages have gone far and wide, transcending cultural and language barriers across the region, through the support of the football personalities, ASEAN’s networks, the ASEAN Football Confederation, and football federations throughout ASEAN. The messages and the delivery channels were tailored to resonate with the football- and sports-loving ASEAN public. 

ASEAN tapped sports ambassadors to deliver friendly and easy-to-digest messages that speak to people from different educational, cultural and linguistic backgrounds.   The region’s football personalities and #ASEANPride, Shah Razen Said, Soeuy Visal, Kurniawan Dwi Yulianto, Soukaphone Vongchiengkham, Safawi Rasid, Maung Maung Lwin, Neil Etheridge, Gabriel Quak, Chanatip Songkrasin, Nguyen Quang Hai helped us produce a set of videos that can be played constantly to promote mental health across the region.

Beyond this, messages from women’s football legends and players, such as Sun Wen from China, Mana Iwabuchi from Japan and Cho So Hyun from South Korea have elevated the diversity level of the ASEAN-FIFA #ReachOut campaign. The campaign has also evolved to become global with the involvement of FIFA legends, Aline, Vero Boquete, Cafu, Laura Georges, Luis García, Shabani Nonda, Patrizia Panico, Fara Williams, and Walter Zenga. Former English Premier League striker Marvin Sordell, and Sonny Pike, who was labelled the “next big thing” at 14, talked about their experiences with depression. Teresa Enke also discussed the pain of losing a loved one, German goalkeeper Robert Enke, to suicide, and the work with the Robert Enke Foundation to bring awareness to this illness.

On 23 September, an interview with the Belgium national team head coach, Roberto Martinez, was published to coincide with the European Commission’s annual Week of Sport, while gamers from the FIFA community also took part in raising awareness. 

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said, “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, it is as important as ever to look after our mental and physical health.” He said that WHO is delighted to support the #ReachOut campaign, spearheaded by FIFA and the ASEAN sports sector, to encourage people to talk about their mental health and to provide practical advice for good mental health.

In the #ReachOut videos, ASEAN footballers echo this plea, “none of us are superhuman. If things are getting too much, ask for support from your friends, family, and even professional help.” Through sports, ASEAN is committed to spreading this message far and wide.  

The complete list of references is available at the following link:
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