Success at TNS has been my way of dealing with mental health issues

Reporter:

Staff reporter (Border Counties)

I think we’re seeing more mental health problems in football, as has been highlighted by the news concerning Everton’s Aaron Lennon last week.

If you look at it, there’s not been a lot of publicity about it before now, but the buzzword of the previous decade was always somewhere like the Priory.

If someone went into the Priory, then they had a gambling or a drug addiction – it seemed to be that people would make of it – along the lines of “he’s on X amount of pounds, so he’s going to a posh health farm”, or something similar.

But mental health is something else. I’ve been down that road myself – when I stopped playing football, I don’t think I really did enough to seek professional help.

I’m being honest in saying that I didn’t do enough – and really I still should seek it to this day.

As much as I’ve moved on from my injury, it has impacted on my life, although not to the point of being hospitalised – and it was 15 years ago.

It drives me and keeps me going when I want to pack in during my low moments, which everyone has.

But I do think it has changed me as a person and probably not in a nice way. I have anger issues from it that I’ve never really addressed.

I can guarantee 100 per cent that since my injury I am a lot less patient, a lot more aggressive and a lot more angry.

It’s obviously diluted now as it’s 15 years ago.

I’ve used the word “grief” before, when I didn’t want to, but it does feel like that. It’s a strong word and automatically people think: “Oh come on, no-one’s died”. They haven’t – but I haven’t used the time I’ve had correctly.

Since I finished, my pattern of life changed to having nothing to do with football, moving to another country and not dealing with playing there.

Then I moved back to the country, lived in Chester and bought a couple of houses before renovating them – then I ended up at TNS, being successful.

That’s been my way of dealing with it but I’ve never actually got down to the real problem. I’ve always been driven as much as I can by that, but at the same time, I’ve also masked my mental health problems at the same time by being successful.

You’d like to think that after all this time it’s diluted enough to not creep up on you. But I had a lot of issues when I finished and football was a lot different then.

I had good support from Crystal Palace – their club doctor made sure to tell me what help I could get, but it’s nothing compared to what we have today.

Players can pay for a lot and I’d like to think that Lennon would be getting that treatment as he can afford it, as I could too – but I’m not sure who he would trust.

But being honest when you’re a professional footballer, or in the limelight generally, you trust very few people because you don’t know what’s going to happen or when it’s going to end up in the papers.

I saw on Twitter some stories about Lennon where they’ve got plastered over the headlines his wage and a picture of him in his car with a beautiful woman – what the hell has that got to do with anything?

That just proves how stupid these people are in thinking mental health has anything to do with wealth. It doesn’t matter how much or how little you’ve got, or what your background may be, one thing in your mind can set you off.

I’m pleased that there’s been such a positive reaction to Lennon. I know my former team-mate Andy Johnson, who also played for Everton, has promised to pledge money for every retweet.

But there are hundreds and thousands of people living with it every day, but in football we might be too macho to not open ourselves up.

Certainly in the male population there’s a possibility we’re still stigmatised for opening up. You’d be surprised at the number of people that have mental health problems through anxiety and depression.

I would be 99.9 per cent sure that I was suffering from depression for a spell of time. At that time, I drank a lot and went out a lot to try to take my mind off it – but I was only 24 at the time.

I didn’t get the professional help I should have. It doesn’t matter how successful and strong you think you are, it just creeps up on you. The only way to deal with it is through professional help and I’m sure Aaron is getting the very best.

It’s obvious that Everton are giving him their full support. A positive from that is people will see Lennon receiving support and hopefully seek help themselves.

That’s a bigger thing than any donations or anything – it’s raising awareness.

But when you hear Piers Morgan coming out with something like “men should stop this trend of opening up, and man up”, it makes me want to say ignore him and I wish I had sought the help I needed.

For me, there were some dark days. Physically, it was a long, long process and my life was completely turned upside down.

It was so hard to get over and what I used to feel was a cloud that was dragging me down.

This load of rubbish that people used to say about “come on Craig – just snap out of it” or telling me to pull myself together.

Looking back and I’m a lot older now – a father and much wiser – the first thing I would say to anyone is get help.

Regardless of how they feel or how little it is or that they’ll get over it, I would say they still need help.

There’ll be so many people out there who would spot the signs and say “well, my dad or brother has felt like that”.

Just go and speak to someone – it doesn’t matter how small it is, it can speed up or be exacerbated so quickly before you even know it and you can be in deep trouble.

That’s where you feel sorry for Aaron Lennon – because he’s been hospitalised for his own safety. It’s something that must be horrendous for his family and it doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, mental health is a very fragile thing.

Straight away, can you get some help? Don’t be the “big man” about it or listen to people like Piers Morgan; go and see your doctor ASAP because from my own experience, the sooner you get it treated, the less effect it’ll have on both your long-term and short-term life.

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