Walk a mile in my shoes

By Stuart Hellingsworth. This article was first published in issue 4 of Turnstile Blues.


I dare say that you’ve heard of Jesus Navas, the Spanish winger at Manchester City. You’ll have certainly heard of Gianluigi Buffon; one of the best keepers to grace the game. What do these two players have in common? Yes, they’re both better footballers than me! But it’s actually more than that; both have battled mental illness.

Navas has suffered from anxiety to the extent that reportedly he had to reject big moves earlier in his career. Buffon has suffered from bouts of depression and required the support of a psychologist.

Depression is sweeping through football. A survey of professional footballers by Four Four Two magazine showed that 78% of them agreed that depression is a problem for footballers. Stan Collymore, and Darren Eadie have talked openly about their battles with depression. Clarke Carlisle, Lee Hendrie and former Hull hard man, Dean Windass, attempted suicide. Paul Gascoigne’s mental health issues are all too well documented. Sadly, it took the lives of Gary Speed and Robert Enke.

Enke was a top goalkeeper winning eight caps for Germany and part of the Euro 2008 squad. His clubs included Barcelona and Benfica, but found much of his success at Hannover 96. Here he became the club captain and was voted the best goal keeper award in 2008/09 season. Two days after a 2-2 draw with Hamburg, Enke kissed his baby daughter and drove off to the train station where he took his own life.

Former ITFC captain, Jason De Vos is one who has encountered players with mental health issues. When asked about the support that such players received, he commented “Football is as vicious a working environment as can be imagined. It really is ‘survival of the fittest’.” But why is this? I have no doubt that De Vos would have been supportive to those concerned, but in this day and age, surely all should be? We don’t judge those with cancer; we support them. So why not mental illness?

Is it because it’s something that ‘other people’ get? Or that we know very few people have such issues? The latter might be true as many of us don’t realise that a friend, a relative, a work colleague, or a famous cricketer is suffering.

The statistics show that mental health problems are far more common than most realise. 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year. 1 in 10 young people will experience a mental health problem.

It’s a common belief that people with mental illness aren’t able to work, but, in fact, we probably all work with someone experiencing a mental health problem. Another myth is that people with mental health illnesses are violent and unpredictable. The reality is that people with a mental illness are more likely to be a victim of violence.

9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination. Nearly three in four young people fear the reactions of friends when they talk about their mental health problems.

In other words, statistically, of the 22 or more footballers that you’ll see at Portman Road today, five are likely to have or develop some sort of mental illness this year. I hope that all clubs have set up a system to nurture players to assist with the prevention and when they are troubled. Football clubs have a duty of care to their players. A coroner criticised one premiership team for lack of support to a former youth player who later ended his life. This is particularly poignant as three young male suicides occur on average every day in the UK, according to the British charity, The Campaign Against Living Miserably. Suicide is the biggest killer of young men. Following Gary Speed’s suicide, the PFA decided to send advice to 50,000 players. They have also a rather good webiste, however an awful lot more remains to be done.


Mental illness can affect people of all ages and walks of life as it can be triggered by physical, social, environmental or/and genetic factors. Depression affects anyone of any age (Rethink 2013).

Statistically there will be a few thousand people in the stands today with a form of mental illness. Probably a number sitting on your row. It’s something that needs acceptance in life rather than a dismissing attitude. Whether we know it or not, a friend, work colleague, lover or family member will have some sort of mental illness. Or maybe you have such problems. Something so many people find really hard to talk about.

With that in mind, the following links may be of help, whether for you personally or someone you know. Remind yourself that you or they have something in common with (among others) Gianluigi Buffon, Winston Churchill and Kylie.

Rethink.org | mind.org.uk | time-to-change.org.uk | samaritans.org


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