Following Mental Health Awareness Week, participants of Red Neighbours’ walking football programme have spoken about their experiences of mental health.

Ste Webster, 51, from Anfield, has been attending walking football twice-a-week for nearly two years.

Ste, what’s been your experience of mental health?

When I look back, everything was ideal. I got married, had a child and got a great job – no problem. However, fast forward 20 years and in retrospect, the cracks started showing. When I look back now, it’s clear to me that my judgement in different situations became worrying. It was like there was something there in the background that made me do things that were 'stupid'.

In 2014, I had a life-changing experience as a result of my own naivety. I went through a stage where I had no job, no house, no employment opportunities with the associated impact upon my physical and mental health. I was in a difficult place, so I had counselling. This didn’t really help me much, so I moved on to anti-depressants.

Why did you decide to join the Red Neighbours Walking Football team?

When I turned 50, I made the conscious decision to do 'something else' for me. Having recently moved to the Anfield area, I heard about walking football here and thought I’d give it a go.

How has coming to walking football helped you?

Once I joined walking football, my life really did change for the better. The camaraderie and banter with the lads has given me something to focus on and look forward to every week. I think the impact it has had on me is clear for all to see and my family and friends have commented numerous times on how it has changed me in their eyes too.

A key date in my recovery was February 10 this year when I took my last anti-depressant – and walking football definitely helped me get to this stage.

Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all plain sailing since, but the way the lads have supported and encouraged me has increased my self-esteem massively.

Eighteen months ago, I lost my dad and, as anyone who’s lost someone close to them will know, that was incredibly hard to deal with. The love from the walking football group that don’t really know the 'real Ste' was something I’ll cherish forever.

What advice would you give someone who is suffering with mental health?

I'd say just try to remember that you're really not alone. The first step is to realise there are good people out there that won't judge, but take you as any other person. It’s without a doubt the hardest part, but you need to reach out and get together the inner strength to admit your own challenges and you'll find you'll be embraced.

How important do you think it is that Red Neighbours are running programmes like walking football in the local community?

When there’s an initiative as part of an institution that you love, it's difficult to either ignore or shy away from it as you already feel part of an extended family through LFC. Inclusivity is key – be it age, ability, background.

Liverpool Football Club means a lot to me and Red Neighbours gives me the opportunity to be involved with the club I love in a very positive way. In November last year I also got to meet James Milner, which was another great opportunity that I wouldn’t have experienced if it wasn’t for Red Neighbours.

So for me, walking football has been a great influence in my journey and long may it continue.

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