As part of Mental Health Awareness Week we went along to Beacon Counselling’s Stamp Out Stigma #ATimeForAnswers event on Thursday to hear about young people’s experiences with mental health in Greater Manchester. Panellists including Mayor Andy Burnham, Oldham Athletic midfielder Jose Baxter, former Wigan Warriors player Danny Sculthorpe and UCFB student Alex Ellison shared their stories with the audience of youngsters. We caught up with Alex to delve deeper into the subject of mental health and find out why stamping out the stigma around it is so important.

Hi Alex, tell us about Stamp Out Stigma, how did you get involved with the organisation?

It was a recommendation from my counsellor actually. I had not heard about the organisation much before but once I heard about the work they have done and also other companies they support I couldn’t wait to get involved and asked for my details to be passed on.

You were a panellist at the Stamp Out Stigma – Time For Answers event this week, with the likes of Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and Oldham’s Jose Baxter, how was that experience?

The experience was great, meeting all of these people, some involved in sporting areas like myself, and others who are looking in from a general life perspective. It’s important that these events are held as we can be role models to show young people it is okay to speak up about issues but also to try and stop issues before they have a chance to develop. What was also great was seeing how, regardless of status, us as a panel all had experience and could share information freely.

How much of an impact do you think sport can have on mental health?

Sport can be such a great thing for developing a healthy mind. It is proven to release positive endorphins which make us feel better about ourselves. It was also a major turning point where I started to reassess things going on in my life and see that it wasn’t all doom and gloom and that actually I could go get a career in this environment.

The Football League have partnered with Mind this season and England have just announced a partnership with Heads Together, what other steps do you think football can take to help change the game on mental health?

I think the main thing that football can do is make people aware of the issue. As a sport it has lots of investment year after year because of the continuous growth and some of that needs to be reinvested in areas such as putting on community sessions where supporters or people in the local community can come and have a chat at the stadium for example. There are so many people who are affected through football whether its coaches, players, other staff and even supporters and there needs to be a safe sport where these people can talk about their feelings and become willing to share.

You spoke recently of the importance of getting support from UCFB during your time here, what would you say to other students who may be hesitant to reach out for that help?

It’s a daunting process having been there myself at the very end of my second year and being nervous about going in and disclosing personal information to anyone. However, if you want things to change you have to be the driving force. People are willing to help if they can see an issue and particularly at universities in general there is always a safe space where you can go and talk about any issues that are concerning you. The student services team here having been amazing they are very patient and don’t force anything that you don’t want to talk about. So my advice is definitely make the effort to access the support if you need it.