‘Ted Lasso’ and the Conversation Around Mental Health
‘Ted Lasso’ is an award-winning show that tells the story of an American-football coach hired to manage AFC Richmond, a British football team (or soccer, as the Americans call it); and what he lacks in knowledge of the sport, he makes up for in optimism, determination, and teamwork (…as well as some great biscuits and a whole lot of laughter).
Whilst Ted Lasso is not based on a true story, it’s incredibly relatable and certainly draws from many real-life inspirations. From navigating relationship struggles to pushing oneself outside of the comfort zone and dealing with all the little complexities of life, the show has something for everyone. Throughout the series, Ted’s motto revolves around believing. “Believe” is a keyword to the “Lasso Way” and was originally meant as a simple expression that AFC Richmond players could use to pull themselves out of their very mediocre position in the Premier League. Yet, as the show continued, and as season 3 launched last week, viewers started to understand its application to the players’ off-pitch lives.
Beyond football games, the show has tackled many mental health issues in its storyline thus far, especially through its main character, played by actor and comedian Jason Sudeikis, the devoted coach who seeks psychotherapy after dealing with panic attacks.
"In regard to the mental health stuff", Sudeikis told US Weekly in 2021, "it was just there. It’s been there forever, but it’s really come up a lot in just knowing where the characters were headed and how important it is to work on yourself to help your team. And I think that we were trying to explore that, and personify it in a way of a trojan horse, showing that there are bigger issues in this fun, silly little comedy show."
"People have really responded to that,2 Sudeikis continues. "Myself and other people in the cast, especially the writing staff, get messages daily from people thanking them for really opening their eyes to what it means to go to therapy and what it means for someone in their own life to go to therapy. Just speaking about these things and taking the stigma off of any form of health, whether it be nutrition or mental, emotional health."
The White House Invitation
Ted Lasso has captured so many viewers' hearts, has tapped into every emotion and has reached every established newspaper, to the point where US President Joe Biden personally invited the cast to the White House.
Mental Health is part of Biden’s bipartisan “unity agenda”, calling for lawmakers to direct more resources towards supporting mental health. His administration has also increased funding for a professional emergency helpline and has requested counsellors to be added to schools, making sure Americans know about their options and addressing the mental well-being of all citizens.
During his speech, Sudeikis united the room, saying: "no matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter who you voted for, we all probably, I assume, know someone who has, or has been that someone ourselves, that's struggled, that's felt isolated, that's felt anxious, that has felt alone”.
He continued, "It's actually one of the many things, believe it or not, that we all have in common as human beings”, encouraging the public to speak up and take action.
‘Ted Lasso’ is More than Representation
The show’s portrayal of anxiety, panic attacks, trauma and treatment make it one of the few times that TV has not only been accurate but has made a real impact in the community.
There are various pivotal moments throughout the seasons where Ted experiences panic attacks, causing him to run off the pitch after a game or abandon a karaoke night with his team. These experiences ultimately push the character to acknowledge that he needs help, to which he sets up an appointment with team psychiatrist, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, in the final scene of episode 6, season 2.
De-stigmatizing mental health through a show beloved by many, about a sport, which too often doesn’t leave room for self-expression, can help the viewers identify the signs of someone struggling and could potentially conquer any doubts fans may have about therapy and help.
Soccer, or football, as many viewers would prefer to call it, has often been used as a tool for social change, especially throughout townships and disadvantaged rural areas. In many countries around the world, football is the most diffused sport and has a very important role in social change, seeking to help at-risk youth, creating communities, and building relationships.
However, even though staying active releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which help promote happiness while reducing stress and anxiety, football has been associated with restrictive norms of toxic masculine behaviour that are harmful to all men and to the sports community. These traditionally include masculine ideals of behaviour, such as male dominance, emotional repression, and self-reliance, which in turn can promote aggression and superiority at the expense of emotional expression – a stereotype that coach Lasso combats at every training session.
Ted Lasso', both the character and the show, have shone a light on the joys of football, while never glossing over the very real and important struggles of fans, coaches, owners, and players.
As a fan of the show and an ex-varsity football player myself, and an advocate for mental health, I believe that the reach and impact of this show is a clear indication that this conversation is only the beginning.
It is now time to think about how we can use sports to communicate mental health and its struggles to younger generations, so that we can collectively help each other, for the well-being of everyone around us.