Clarke Carlisle Backs Mental Health In Sport Charter

25 March 2015, 13:11 | Updated: 25 March 2015, 13:17

Former Northampton Town footballer Clarke Carlisle has today backed plans to deal with mental health discrimination in sport.

The ex-footballer said he was "incredibly unwell'' when he tried to take his own life in December but he now had a "very different perspective'' on life.

Speaking at the Oval Cricket Ground in London, Carlisle said: "People are very delicate stepping around it - there's no shame invested in it for me.

"I tried to commit suicide because I was incredibly unwell, but it's changed my life.

"It's changed my life because I got incredible support - initially from Leeds General Hospital to keep me alive and then from the Cygnet Hospital in Harrogate to not only nurture me mentally but to give me new tools and new skills.

"I stand here today with a very different perspective of what it means to be alive in this world.

"There's a great expectation that once you come out of a psychiatric hospital you're cured - you're not cured. You just have more tools, a greater awareness of self and a greater understanding of how to manage your illness and that's exactly where I'm at.

"I'm managing my illness on a daily basis and I can tell you today I'm very well.''

Carlisle, 35, was seriously injured after he was hit by a 12-ton lorry on the A64 near York on December 22.

Still bearing the physical scars from the crash, the former Burnley and Leeds defender joined Nick Clegg at the Oval today for the launch of the Mental Health Charter for Sport and Recreation.

The Football Association (FA), the Rugby Football Union (RFU), the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) are among the governing bodies in sport to sign up to the scheme which is committed to removing the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Carlisle said: "A large proportion of society will look at a sports star and say: 'You're doing the job of you're dreams, you're getting paid fantastic amounts of money, you're getting adulation and playing in front of crowds, what have you got to be unhappy about?'

"Depression, anxiety, all the plethora of strands of mental health, they've got nothing to do with happiness or sadness. It's an illness.

"It's not a choice, it's not an option, it needs treating in the right manner.''

Mr Clegg said that, while he had not personally been affected by mental illness, he had encountered many people, particularly children, who were "left to feel vulnerable and isolated all on their own''.

"I think it's a form of institutionalised cruelty the way in which we haven't helped - particularly children and adolescents - with mental health problems in the same way we would treat them they if had a physical health problem,'' he said.

"Mental health for far too long was an issue that was kept in the shadows, and treated with a sense of taboo or embarrassment, but is now being talked about much more openly.

"I'd love to live in a society where a dad can talk as openly about his struggle with depression at the school gates as a mum can about the fact she recently broke her ankle.''

Mr Clegg said one in four people were affected by mental illness and professional sport stars were "not immune''.

"Out of the spotlight and away from the glare of the media, some have been fighting their own personal battles against mental illness,'' he added.

"For the very first time we're standing together to help kick mental health discrimination out of sport, not just on the pitches but across the playgrounds, so that we can build a fairer society in which no one has to suffer in silence.''

The charter, which comes after it was announced an extra #1.25 billion will be spent on mental health services over the next five years, will also encourage more people to take up sport to help with their mental and physical health.

The Professional Players Federation said it has doubled the number of counsellors for footballers due to an increasing demand over the past three years.

Its helpline and network of counsellors worked with 143 current and former sports stars last year, with many struggling with issues including anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.

Meanwhile, the number of cricketers seeking help for mental health-related issues has doubled year-on-year for the past three years, the Cabinet Office said.