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Making mental health a priority is Crystal Palace fan's goal
A Crystal Palace fan has become one of the first mental health ambassadors in the Premier League a year after attempting to commit suicide.
Paul Richards is hoping to set a trend amongst the country’s elite clubs as he looks to tackle the issues surrounding mental health.
The 27-year-old has teamed up with Susan Biggs at the Study Centre at Crystal Palace with help of mental health charities Mind and Hear Us to try and set up a variety of projects in the community.
Mr Richards, who lives in Thornton Heath, is also captain of the Palace Mental Health team which recently won the Surrey FA South London Cup.
The Eagle’s fan, who also writes for the Five Year Plan fanzine, has been the club’s Mental Health Ambassador for nearly three months and has already organised a drop in session on matchdays for fans who want guidance on mental health.
Mr Richards suffers from OCD, borderline personality disorder and adjustment disorder which has meant he has been unable to work.
Last year matters came to a head when he attempted to commit suicide in February after a sustained period of illness.
He said: "Things get magnified when you have issues.
"You try and look for a way out of it and unfortunately that can go down to the very extreme.
"I am quite open with the fact that I tried to commit suicide last year. It didn’t work, obviously, but it was a horrible time.
"I could not see a way out and there are some days up until I started working where I wished it had worked. "
Since then things have improved for Mr Richards.
He has set up the Beat the Stigma programme which aims to raise awareness about mental health and tackle some of the prejudices surrounding it.
Palace fan, comedian and BBC presenter Kevin Day is one of the backers of the scheme.
Paul and Susan at the Study Centre which is based at Selhurst Park.
Mr Richards and Mrs Biggs are in talks with businesses and sponsors to find funding for the project as Paul’s position is currently on a voluntary basis.
He added: "If you know that someone is there to help you, it goes a long way.
"We want to be there to help people and point them in the right direction.
"One in four people suffer from some sort of mental health problem. So on a match day, that is around 6,000 of the fans.
“So we want to help. We do a drop in session on a matchday. I come here a few hours before kick off and people come and talk face to face about where they should go.
Mrs Biggs added: "Palace is a family club and we are a caring community club.
"The minute our owners heard about this, especially Stephen Browett and Jeremy Hosking, they helped us immensely.
"As a club you have a duty of care to your fans and local community.
"If this takes off and we can get Paul in a paid role, we want the whole community to benefit from this."
Stephen Browett, co-chairman of the club and a trustee of the charity said: "As a football club that is very much a part of the South London community, we feel a strong responsibility to reach out to all members of the community.
"We are very happy to lend our support to this important issue and I know Paul and Susan are working hard to get their ideas up and running."
Go to studycentrecpfc.org.uk to find out more about the Beat the Stigma programme and the study centre.
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