Football’s Suicide Secret – a documentary.

Football’s Suicide Secret

First Aired BBC Three, 21:00 Tue, 9 Jul 2013

Presenter: Clarke Carlisle
Producer: Donald Stewart

I’m not a Football fan but I found this documentary very powerful.

I have Mental Health issues, I don’t mention them much on this Blog because this is an Entertainment Blog. I post now and then on another Blog about my thoughts and feelings. Not often, I probably should put more on there. I don’t publicise that Blog. But I also don’t hide that I have problems. I have Depression & Anxiety. I experience Mood Swings and to some degree Panic attacks but I have those pretty much in control now. I’m very self-aware due to help I’ve had along the way.

So that is a very brief background to why I started to watch a documentary that was ostensibly about Football. The documentary is presented by ClarkeClarke Carlisle, professional Footballer and Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association and he is talking from experience.

After the first three minutes we hear Clark’s description of depression; ‘I feel my body shutting down, I don’t just mean I’m tired. I f.. It feels my brain is closing. I don’t wanna get out of bed because I don’t wanna face that day and I don’t want to think or process anything. You just don’t wanna face anyone”. That resonated with me. My brain closes, I reach an absence of mood and simply function; I call it going ‘Blank’. I hate being Blank when it happens and though individual experience can vary that description made me feel a connection.

In Britain we are probably all aware of the suicide of Gary Speed, even I had heard of Gary Speed. No one knew he was so depressed to succumb to suicide. But is Mental Health a high risk issue for Footballers?

We see Clarke visiting an Academy where young lads of 15 to 18 hone their skills. Clarke explains to a group of them that statistics show that only 1 percent of hopefuls actually make it in professional Football. These young lads have no back-up plan, no idea what they will do if they fail in their ambition. This age is the first drop off point where the young hopefuls first start to get rejected. This happened to Clarke at Blackburn rovers at 13 or 14. He talks to one young man, Tim, that failed to get a place, but is still trying, one of his first comments is that his father is just coming round to the idea. Tim feels he failed his father.

Instant fame and fortune awaits those that make it through the Academies. These players are not prepared for the pressures that this brings. He speaks to Simon Jordan from Crystal Palace who admits he is aware that pressure he placed on at least one player under his charge led to Mental Health issues, a very honest comment. Clarke feels each Club should have something in place to help spot these issues and help players to adjust to the change in their life.

ClarkeClarke joined QPR at the age of 20 for a quarter of a million pounds. It sounds like he dealt with the transition well, acknowledging the ego trip he went through. He mentions the heckling, which players can’t show affects them.

Clubs put many other pressures on a player, often telling them who they can talk to, what they can say and who they need to avoid. They package the player.

Through the program Clarke talks to Lee Hendrie, former England U/21 player who bought his family cars and houses only to lose everything and be declared bankrupt. He talks about his own injury that almost ended his career. These things can take someone from the highs of fame and fortune to feeling they are a failure. Pressures of the game and injuries and the fear of what he would do after his career led to the divorce of Leon McKenzie and the separation from his children. Lee attempted suicide, as did Leon and as did Clark.

It is an emotional journey for Clark. He revisits where he tried to take his own life and he explains how he felt at the time. He talks about his shame at what he did. Very brave to bare his inner self to the country. At the time he kept it a secret as Mental Health issues are a taboo, seen as a weakness.

Lesley Speed, Gary’s sister, talks to ClarkeClarke about her brother’s death. Gary took his own life only hours after being on TV and going to watch Manchester United play Newcastle United at Old Trafford with his friend Alan Shearer. Talking about Gary is another very emotional time for Clark. He feels for her and for what he almost put his own family through.

But ClarkeClarke is well placed. He visited Sporting Chance, a clinic set up by Ex-Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams. They treat four people at a time, helping them learn how to cope with their issues.

Robert Enke was the first pick goal keeper for Germany at the time of his suicide in 2009. Robert put pressure on himself to be perfect in his game. He felt shame at the secret of his Mental Health issues, which he his from the public for many years. Every German Football Club now provide access to psychiatric support and there is a 24 hour hotline and give support through the Robert Enke Foundation.

Not so in the UK. Clarke feels the need for the removal of the stigma. Earlier this year Clarke went through a long bout of depression and his Manager told players and the Press that he had flu.

One of the great problems people with Mental Health issues face is the lack of understanding. Many people just can’t understand what Depression is, it isn’t just ‘feeling sad’, like Clarke explained at the beginning, it is very much more. Some people don’t understand Anxiety or Mood Swings or Psychosis, etc. That must change for everyone, not just Footballers.

Now ClarkeClarke is facing what to do after retiring this season. Retiring from work can raise the chances of Depression by 40 percent. So he visits Focus Fitness where retired Footballers people retrain to be personal fitness trainers, such as Ishmael Welsh.

Crucially ClarkeClarke finds out that the FA, the governing body of the game in the UK, have programs in place that he as the Chairman of the PFA hasn’t been made aware of. If he isn’t aware of these programs how can players become aware?

And with the connection I felt with Clarke through this program and as a Yorkshire man who heard so much about how well Bradford did at the end of the season i feel empathy for Clarke losing the play-off against my neighbouring city.

So, I’m not a Football fan; but I was engrossed by this documentary and I respect Clark’s experiences. Well done, Clark.

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