FOOTBALLER Chris Mitchell took his own life in 2016, after injury forced him out of the professional game early in his career. The 27-year-old’s tragic death all too briefly threw the spotlight on the issue of mental health among players and the need to prepare them for a life after football. The news then that every football club in Scotland will now appoint named persons to monitor players’ mental health and try to prevent similar deaths is to be welcomed.

This initiative along with the setting up of “mental health first aid courses” came as a result of action taken by Mr Mitchell’s family and the foundation they set up in his name. The funding made available by the Chris Mitchell Foundation will now enable coaches and staff to have access to training administered by the Scottish Professional Football League (SPLF).

In a society where mental health remains stigmatised such efforts are to be congratulated. Mental health problems can affect any of us, at any time in our lives. The need to be able to open up and talk problems through with first responders willing and trained to listen is a vital first step in addressing concerns. Many of those most vulnerable are people who find themselves struggling with the transition from a high-octane professional role to a perhaps more mundane job.

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After quitting Clyde FC, Stirling-born Mr Mitchell found such a transition difficult, a problem his family believe may be far more widespread among young professional footballers. Professional football is all-consuming for those lucky enough to make the grade. Every year clubs take on young hopefuls, and often the development of their alternative skillsets and education are left behind.

Short of those who become high earners at the top end of the profession, many players exist in a football environment far removed from such financial rewards. Some work part-time in tandem with their footballing career, and many have little to fall back on should their sporting aspirations come to a premature end.

For those whose career hopes are cut short through injury or for whatever reason, it can be a daunting and damaging thing to come to terms with. Mr Mitchell was barely eight weeks into training for a job outside football,when he took his own life.

Clearly football clubs themselves have an obligation and responsibility in terms of looking after the welfare and health of those youngsters who join their ranks. Inside the club there at least exists the opportunity to identify problems before they become debilitating or dangerous to individuals. For those already retired there are other longer-term challenges too that the Professional Footballers Association in Scotland (PFA) does what it can to address.

In the macho, laddish environment of professional football many youngsters will find it difficult to bring up mental health issues that might be of concern to them. The recent case of David Cox, who plays for Scottish League Two side Cowdenbeath, brought this into the spotlight. After bravely speaking out publicly about his mental health struggles, the 28-year-old told of being taunted by fans and being called a “psycho” and mocked about “slitting his wrists”. Mr Cox himself believes the game’s authorities need to act on such abuse in the same way they do against racism.

Noxious and abhorrent as such behaviour is, it has again highlighted the difficulties faced by young players with mental health issues.

The initiative taken by the Chris Mitchell Foundation is a move in the right direction. It has paved the way for those other efforts that now need to be made by clubs and other bodies to protect vulnerable young players and prepare them for a life after football.