TAMPA, Fla. – As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, the United Soccer League (USL) announced today the launch of NEED SUPPORT?, a new platform focused on driving awareness of the importance of mental health for our communities.
The centerpiece of the campaign is an innovative partnership with 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (988 Lifeline). The 988 Lifeline, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health (Vibrant), is a national network of local crisis centers that provide free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the United States. Throughout the 2023 season, the USL and its clubs will drive awareness of 988 Lifeline in an effort to support people in our communities as they navigate their mental health at all stages in their lives.
“The recent statistics around mental health, especially the mental health of young people, who make up a significant portion of soccer fans in America, should be setting off alarms for everyone,” said USL CMO Greg Lalas. “That’s why we are launching the NEED SUPPORT? campaign and are committed to caring for the mental health of our communities. The USL is proud to work with 988 Lifeline to spread the word about mental health, the support that is available for people in crisis, and ways we can all help each other. It’s just the first step, but an important one.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the mental health crisis in the United States is worsening. It affects all groups, regardless of age, race, gender or sexual orientation, and is most prominent among young people.
The CDC’s recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey states:
In 2021, 42 percent of high school students reported experiencing “persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness,” up from 28 percent in 2011.
22 percent “seriously considered attempting suicide,” up from 16 percent in 2011.
The NEED SUPPORT? campaign will begin to roll out across the USL Championship and USL League One this weekend, including during Saturday’s national broadcast of Louisville City FC vs. Miami FC on ESPN2.
“Vibrant Emotional Health is proud to partner with the United Soccer League as it rolls out the pivotal NEED SUPPORT? campaign during Mental Health Awareness Month,” said Dr. Tia Dole, Chief 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline Officer at Vibrant. “We must work together to inform, educate and raise awareness of critical life-saving resources, like the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, throughout the league and nationwide. This campaign will empower more people to access 24/7 emotional support, reducing suicides and mental health crises and promoting a pathway to well-being for all. We sincerely thank the USL and its clubs for their work in building mental health conversations and actions in the sporting world.”
The partnership includes a 988 Lifeline-themed armband that team captains will wear this weekend and can choose to wear at any game throughout the season. Other elements of the awareness campaign include a 988 Lifeline Public Service Announcement, in-stadium LEDs, online resources, and social posts. Lastly, the USL plans to host a 988 Lifeline-led webinar for USL HQ staff to provide mental health resources for staff and the tools to recognize a mental health crisis in their friends or colleagues.
In March, USL Championship club Sacramento Republic FC announced their own partnership with 988 Lifeline in which the club’s first team and academy jerseys will feature a patch on the right sleeve promoting 988 Lifeline throughout the entire 2023 season. As part of the partnership, a portion of the proceeds from every kit sold will support local mental health and wellness initiatives through non-profit partners. The full release can be found here.
Beyond Mental Health Awareness Month, the NEED SUPPORT? campaign will continue throughout the season and activate heavily during National Suicide Prevention Week in September.
The USL has developed a program to provide Adult Mental Health First Aid (AMHFA) training to coaches throughout the professional leagues. Mental Health First Aid is an evidence- and research-based course that was created in partnership with the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The Adult Mental Health First Aid focuses on common signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges and how to respond from early intervention through crises.
The training program will be run in partnership with licensed MHFA instructor Natasha Buffo, a community mental health facilitator who runs Dirt & Tears, a mental health and leadership training company that centers on being “comfortable with the uncomfortable, telling the untold stories, and guiding the gritty discussions.”
“Nearly all of my clients agree – they want to help but lack the confidence in when to step forward, what to say, and how to make an impact,” said Buffo. “I am proud to be partnering with the USL. I've witnessed firsthand the difference in leadership, employee satisfaction and retention, between teams where a manager is trained on AMHFA and those that are not. Just like a game cannot be won by an individual and a season can’t be completed without practice, mental health cannot be achieved alone, without support and information. We must work together and as a community – like any strong team will do to reach their goals.”
It is also worth noting that as part of Mental Health Awareness Month, the USL Players Association (USLPA) recently announced a partnership with Onrise Care to provide mental health support for players. Through this partnership, PA members can receive Player Care, Teletherapy and Medication Management, supporting player needs ranging from sport-life balance, injury navigation, relationship problems and substance abuse support. Read the USLPA’s announcement here.
Impacting more than 200 communities, the United Soccer League (USL) is the largest professional soccer organization in North America. The USL is the first and only soccer organization in the United States to build a youth-to-professional pathway for both women and men within one ecosystem. That structure includes three professional leagues: USL Championship (men), USL League One (men) and USL Super League (women), which begins in August 2024.
About 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline
Funded by SAMHSA and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline (988 Lifeline) is a leader in suicide prevention and mental health crisis care. The 988 Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support and crisis counseling to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, across the United States. Callers who follow the “press 1” prompt are connected to the Veterans Crisis Line. A Spanish Language line is available by pressing #2 when calling 9-8-8, and more than 150 languages are supported through a Tele-Interpreters service. Callers now also have the option of following a “press 3” prompt to be connected to a counselor specifically trained in supporting LGBTQ+ callers. The 988 Lifeline comprises a national network of more than 200 local crisis centers, uniting local resources with national best practices. Since its inception in 2005, the 988 Lifeline has engaged in innovative public messaging, development of best practices in mental health, creative partnerships, and more to improve crisis services and advance suicide prevention for all. https://988lifeline.org/