Friday 15 February 2019

Brave Brian opens door on mental health

No longer acceptable to ask players suffering depression to 'man up'

Former Cork City and Hull City player Brian Lenihan has opened up about his battle with depression after quitting the game
Former Cork City and Hull City player Brian Lenihan has opened up about his battle with depression after quitting the game

Getting a place in the Ireland squad under Martin O'Neill was, almost, a taste of the big time for Brian Lenihan.

A cap didn't come his way then and now, at the age of 23, Lenihan is an ex-footballer, ready to try some things outside of the goldfish bowl that is professional soccer.

The former Cork City man has made headlines well beyond Cork and Hull, the two cities where he plied his trade, as a result of a remarkably frank interview where he detailed his battles with depression and a suicide attempt last year, stating that he quit football not through physical injury but because of mental illness.

"It was a really dark, dark period of my life," Lenihan told the Hard Knocks Sports podcast.

The reaction to Lenihan's comments has been universally positive. Former Ireland international Andy Reid praised the Cork man for speaking out, outlining a position which Reid knew, even though the Dubliner managed to reach the heights which eluded Lenihan (Premier League football, million-pound transfers, Ireland caps).

"I found things so hard to deal with when injury ended my career, it can be a dark place and everything in life becomes so hard. Family and close friends helped me through," Reid said on twitter.

Depression can hit an athlete, whether it's a current player on a six-figure weekly wage in the Premier League, a lad on €100-a-week in the League of Ireland, or an ex-pro who is struggling to deal with the 'ex' bit.

We're told, again and again, that things have improved and football no longer lives in the dark ages when it comes to dealing with mental health. No longer the norm that when Stan Collymore was told by a clinical psychologist, while seeking treatment for depression in his Aston Villa days, that he'd "feel better" after scoring a couple of goals.

For so long, the way to deal with it was to bottle it up. Keith Treacy had a pretty good career, playing in the Premier League and winning six Ireland caps (2010-11) but, when admitting his own issues with depression in a Herald interview in 2016, he came to realise that he had been depressed for his entire career, even in the (supposedly) successful times.

He said he found it hard to find someone eager to listen, or understand. "In England, if you asked for help, you had to go through the PFA," said former Blackburn player Treacy, still only 29 but no longer in the game.

"Although they'd say it was confidential, if you needed time off, needed to miss training or a game, the manager would want to know why, the PFA would have to disclose that you are seeing a shrink. When it comes to Saturday and the manager is 50/50 over who to play, any manager will go with the lad whose head is not messed up. That's why I never looked for help in England."

Now, it's easier for current players to admit issues with mental health, as Aaron Lennon did. Former players, such as Jason McAteer, have also made public their issues.

And next month Mikey Drennan, a talent who quit soccer two years ago due to depression, resumes his career with Sligo Rovers, a second chance.

A life outside of football is also the case for Lenihan. "I feel lucky to have a second chance at life, lots of others don't," he said.

*If you or someone you know have been affected by issues raised in this article, help is available from the Samaritans on 116123, or jo@samaritans.ie

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