Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

A welcome addition to the depression campaign library – this time from a top footballer

Posted on 25 July 2011 | 8:07am

A break from politics and the press today, and instead three of my other interests – football, mental illness and plugging books. No, not my own books, though these are available here here here here here and the latest one, Power and Responsibility, here. Oh, and you can pre-order the next one, The Burden of Power, here

The one I really want to plug, however, is ‘I’m not really here – a life of two halves’.

I met the author, former Manchester City footballer Paul Lake, a couple of weeks ago.

It is fair to say that it will help if readers are football fans, but it is not essential. For me the most important parts of the book are those that deal with Paul’s depression, which fell upon him as he struggled with a succession of injuries which after years of struggle  prematurely ended his career.

The culture of football remains fairly unenlightened in some areas, but there has been progress on racism, and there will be more progress on mental health thanks to Paul’s book. He cites a former manager, John Gregory, asking the question ‘what’s he got to be depressed about?’ That question still gets asked, inside football and outside, but the more open people like Paul Lake are, the better off all of us will be, and the more managers and other leaders in sport will realise depression is an illness like any other.

He seems to have come to terms with his career ending early, but as I discovered when I met him, though he has not had a bad bout of depression for years, he will live with the pain and physical scars of injury forever. He cannot kick a ball – if he does his knee balloons to twice its normal size – and even raising his pace to jog across the road to avoid traffic is a risk.

All this for someone once seen as a future England captain. Non football fans will be able to whizz through accounts of player banter and descriptions of the key matches in his life. But the accounts of his depression and his struggles with injury are worth real examination by a general audience. He is now back in the game, working as an ambassador for the communities programme at his former club. But I hope the mental health charities realise they too have a great new ambassador to recruit, and that Time to Change – who get a good plug in the book – ‘sign him on’, as we say on what used to be the terraces.

You would not expect me to get through a blog about a footballer without mentioning Burnley, so I remind fellow Clarets that Paul spent a year at Burnley as a physio – having spent so much time being treated by physios, he decided to become one. And there are some wonderful insights into our former manager Stan Ternent, whose after match interviews, as I revealed in the Financial Times magazine on Saturday, were a cause of fascination to my former boss, TB.

Good luck to Paul and his family, and I look forward to seeing him on the Time to Change circuit.

  • Anna

    ‘What’s he got to be depressed about?’

    You wouldn’t say of a rich young footballer stricken with diabetes, ‘What’s he thinking of, getting diabetes?’ You’d sympathise and hope he’d get proper medical treatment and be able to live his life fully.

    As I’ve said before, we need a new medical term to describe the illness of clinical depression that distinguishes it from the mood we call ‘depressed’ when we really mean merely ‘fed up’ or ‘a bit low’, so that the ignorant stop regarding it as a moral flaw or character weakness, instead of an illness that needs understanding and treatment, just as a diabetic needs insulin and education in managing his/her condition.

  • Anna

    ‘What’s he got to be depressed about?’

    You wouldn’t say of a rich young footballer stricken with diabetes, ‘What’s he thinking of, getting diabetes?’ You’d sympathise and hope he’d get proper medical treatment and be able to live his life fully.

    As I’ve said before, we need a new medical term to describe the illness of clinical depression that distinguishes it from the mood we call ‘depressed’ when we really mean merely ‘fed up’ or ‘a bit low’, so that the ignorant stop regarding it as a moral flaw or character weakness, instead of an illness that needs understanding and treatment, just as a diabetic needs insulin and education in managing his/her condition.

  • It’s great that Paul has written about his depression.  This month we have also seen a NZ cricketer ‘come out’ about his, and a Warrington RL player coming to the fore following the suicide of a colleague.  In Australia in September they run an RUOK? campaign, aiming to get people more engaged in each other’s mental welfare and specifically more suicide-aware, and it would be great if we could do that here – Time To Change may be interested in picking up on that.  The more people like Paul (and you) publicise and de-stigmatise mental illness the better we will be able to reduce the negative impact on individuals.

  • It’s great that Paul has written about his depression.  This month we have also seen a NZ cricketer ‘come out’ about his, and a Warrington RL player coming to the fore following the suicide of a colleague.  In Australia in September they run an RUOK? campaign, aiming to get people more engaged in each other’s mental welfare and specifically more suicide-aware, and it would be great if we could do that here – Time To Change may be interested in picking up on that.  The more people like Paul (and you) publicise and de-stigmatise mental illness the better we will be able to reduce the negative impact on individuals.

  • Very well said.  I’d have been amazed if you hadn’t plugged your books.
    But yes, so many don’t understand depression – what’ve you got to be depressed about, or as said to me “Life’s too short for nervous breakdowns” Yes it is but these things happen and support and reassurance are vital.
    Looks a good book by Paul.

  • Very well said.  I’d have been amazed if you hadn’t plugged your books.
    But yes, so many don’t understand depression – what’ve you got to be depressed about, or as said to me “Life’s too short for nervous breakdowns” Yes it is but these things happen and support and reassurance are vital.
    Looks a good book by Paul.

  • Anonymous

    My friend struggles with depression. It has got to a point where he can hardly leave his home and because of that he has lost his job and is now on benefits. It has affected him badly and I hardly ever seem him as he does not see people in person anymore.

    Recently, it also got him a court summons. His situation meant he could not afford a TV licence. Paying through direct debit was out of the question as he has no savings and social security is not consistently paid into his account.  His condition seems to prevent him doing daily chores, so he simply didn’t buy one. I think, if truth were known, it didn’t even register on his radar.

    Then, 3 months ago, a man came from TV licensing. He apparently searched through his house and it all got very stressful.  My mate says the licensing official then arrested him, stating, “anything you give in evidence etc” before taking a statement.  He got quite confused and upset about the whole incident.

    He contacted me later when a summons came to go to court.  He did not have to attend in person but he needed to write a letter to the judges. I helped him write a letter of mitigation, which he then sent to the court. He was fined £350 plus costs.

    To my mind this is an example of society not recognising his mental illness.  I am not sure what others believe, but I did not feel his punishment was fair.

  • Anonymous

    My friend struggles with depression. It has got to a point where he can hardly leave his home and because of that he has lost his job and is now on benefits. It has affected him badly and I hardly ever seem him as he does not see people in person anymore.

    Recently, it also got him a court summons. His situation meant he could not afford a TV licence. Paying through direct debit was out of the question as he has no savings and social security is not consistently paid into his account.  His condition seems to prevent him doing daily chores, so he simply didn’t buy one. I think, if truth were known, it didn’t even register on his radar.

    Then, 3 months ago, a man came from TV licensing. He apparently searched through his house and it all got very stressful.  My mate says the licensing official then arrested him, stating, “anything you give in evidence etc” before taking a statement.  He got quite confused and upset about the whole incident.

    He contacted me later when a summons came to go to court.  He did not have to attend in person but he needed to write a letter to the judges. I helped him write a letter of mitigation, which he then sent to the court. He was fined £350 plus costs.

    To my mind this is an example of society not recognising his mental illness.  I am not sure what others believe, but I did not feel his punishment was fair.

  • I respect your belief in the possibility of change in perceptions, insight and understanding that are offered by yourself and people such as Paul Lake. To know that such brave visionaries exist lightens the shadows around those of us who are in a dimmer room. Behind the Arras.
    As ever, I greatly commend your fortitude.
    May the road rise to meet you.

  • I respect your belief in the possibility of change in perceptions, insight and understanding that are offered by yourself and people such as Paul Lake. To know that such brave visionaries exist lightens the shadows around those of us who are in a dimmer room. Behind the Arras.
    As ever, I greatly commend your fortitude.
    May the road rise to meet you.

  • One to add to my DH growing collection of footy memoires, in particular those written by ex-players with sad endings to their careers.

    Whether the reason for premature ill-health retirement is a physical one (yours truly) or a mental one, equal measures of compassion, understanding and provision are called for – are you listening DC et al?

    Highlighting ALL ill-health and creating a database of clear understanding is so important. Well done, AC and, now, PL.

  • One to add to my DH growing collection of footy memoires, in particular those written by ex-players with sad endings to their careers.

    Whether the reason for premature ill-health retirement is a physical one (yours truly) or a mental one, equal measures of compassion, understanding and provision are called for – are you listening DC et al?

    Highlighting ALL ill-health and creating a database of clear understanding is so important. Well done, AC and, now, PL.

  • I remember Spike Milligan complaining that even some of the medical staff in the “mental hospitals” he spent some time in would berate him saying “you’ve nothing to be depressed about”.  It’s hard for people who’ve never suffered from it to understand how overwhelming depression can be.
    Nice to hear you on TMS but what a grade A pavilion bore Geoff Boycott can be.  It’s wonderful to listen to him au sujet de cricket but awful when he starts spouting on about anything else!

  • I remember Spike Milligan complaining that even some of the medical staff in the “mental hospitals” he spent some time in would berate him saying “you’ve nothing to be depressed about”.  It’s hard for people who’ve never suffered from it to understand how overwhelming depression can be.
    Nice to hear you on TMS but what a grade A pavilion bore Geoff Boycott can be.  It’s wonderful to listen to him au sujet de cricket but awful when he starts spouting on about anything else!

  • dagi

    A good blog entry.

    I hope Paul Lake’s book receives some coverage in the national media and it helps stimulate a debate and exposure of mental health issues. Sadly I suspect they’ll be more of a focus on the football playing aspect of the book rather than the depression – I hope I’m proved wrong.

  • dagi

    A good blog entry.

    I hope Paul Lake’s book receives some coverage in the national media and it helps stimulate a debate and exposure of mental health issues. Sadly I suspect they’ll be more of a focus on the football playing aspect of the book rather than the depression – I hope I’m proved wrong.

  • Gilliebc

    Many good and interesting comments on AC’s blog post today.  All of which I agree with and like, thus far.  Just when I was thinking that there was nothing I could add in the way of a comment, I read your post Tauntoncider.  I have to say that I found the story of your friend’s treatment at the hands first of all of the “little hitler” from the TV Licensing Authority and then the court, both quite shocking.

    First of all the man from TV Licensing invading your friend’s space and privacy in such an officious manner must have been a nightmare for your friend and I’m not surprised he became “confused and upset” poor man.

    Then the court, dispite hearing of his current difficulties regarding his mental health and dire financial circumstances make his situation even worse by taking more money from him.

    I have read occasionaly in the news papers of shoplifters being let-off with far less compelling reasons given in mitigation than those of your friend.  I would imagine your friend has been left with the perfectly justifiable impression of being kicked when he was already down!   Sadly this seems to be the case for increasing numbers of people in our country now.

    Tauntoncider, (likin’ the user name btw)  I take it your friend doesn’t have a wife or partner, if that is the case then he is at least fortunate enough to have you as a mate.  I daresay that is not always easy for you!  You must be a very patient and understanding guy, good on you for that alone, if I may say so.

  • I feel for and empathise deeply with anybody trapped in such a circumstance and entrapped by such ghastly beaurocratic machinations.
    Manic Depression Fellowship, Depression Alliance, anxiety groups, Scope, Mind are names that come to me first as being groups that do offer legal insight and support. C.A.B can be very good, depending on the individual group. The D.W.P can also help, surprisingly. If community mental health are involved via C.P.N then they should have relevant insight.
    Sorry for the alphabet spaghetti above, abbreviation abuse but I do, from experience, know that certain of the groups above are excellent and I endorse them with all my heart.
    I wish your friend every kind thought and all strength. He is fortunate in having you as a friend.

  • Gilliebc

    Re; my previous post.  Third para. that word should be despite not dispite!

    If only there were a prize for the most erratic speller, I reckon I’d be well in the running 🙂

  • Ehtch

    Not football, but rugby – I have always wondered if the great Barry John suffers from depression. Incredible player in his day, but couldn’t cope with the fame after the Lions tour of New Zealand in 1971, and retired at 27. Writes for the Western Mail these days, rugby of course. He was brought up a mile away from me, and went to the school I went to. We do tend to breed depressives down my way, if that is the right way of putting it, including one, but not serious, but I have my moments/periods.

  • Churchst28

    loved your test match interview the other day.  wish to say [aged 63, first day of test watching headingley 1964 eng v aust] there is a lot to recommend about one station tv coverage.  go to any cricket ground; you will not pick up every nuance; 99% of the crowd is not behind the bowler’s arm.  If you know acertain test ground then it is confusing not to understand the direction of bowling eg Headingley up or down hill.  I would argue for a more simple system rather than the over-the-top which is currently fashionable.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for this information. I wasn’t aware of it so I will pass it on. The problem is whether he will do anything about it.  Its very hard for him to do anything at all and he will not be pushed.

    Also, another problem, is that I get the impression he is not ill enough for anyone to automatically help him. We spoke to Social services not too long ago and they said he would have to self-refer before they would get involved. As he is not helping himself right now, self-referral is unlikely to happen.

    Its not an easy problem to solve.

  • Anonymous

    The conviction has already happened now, but you would have thought that the court would have known what to do in these situations if it has happened before in other cases. It was clearly stated in his letter and we also gave details of his doctor.

    Re the licensing man, apparently they have powers to enter your house and search for TV’s and related goods. You have no choice once you have opened the door. You’re right though, not very nice at all.He has a few of us trying to keep an eye, but its frustrating when he doesn’t respond at all to calls/email etc or open his door. Its very hard to know what to do in those situations. 

  • Ehtch

    Excellent display by England – well done to all. The Prior/Broad second innings partnership won it – that was the crucial part of the test match, no doubt. England were in bits before then in the second innings.

    Was the interview on radio, or Sky(!), Churchst28?

  • Ehtch

    Just to back up psychiatric hospital staff here, they say that to help turn the mind towards positive thinking lines. There is nothing nasty in them saying this, it is just a form of simple encouragement towards healthy thoughts. It works a bit, I think.

  • Ehtch

    Excellent article from the Telegraph from 2005 here on Barry John. Whenever I have met him, he comes across as a person that certainly has his heart in the right place, but you can sense he is an extremely sensitive man. And he played rugby of all things!
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/2360340/Barry-John-the-greatest-Lion-of-them-all.html

  • Gilliebc

    I can well understand the frustration of you and your mates.  It does sound as if he doesn’t want to be helped!  He is ill, that much is clear.  But, I’m sorry to say that there are some people who cannot or will not ask for or accept any help.  When I was suffering from depression in my late 20’s it took me 8 months to go and see my GP because I really didn’t see it as a medical problem as such.  I just thought I was being weak and feeble. I was still functioning well both at work and at home, but all the while secretly wishing I’d get run over by a bus or that some other tragic accident would befall me.  It sounds almost funny now with hindsight, but it was horrible at the time and I wouldn’t wish those sort of feelings on my worst enemy.  I was very fortunate that I had a great GP and also even more fortunate to have had total insight into my condition.  I was very lucky indeed.

    I’m no expert on other peoples mental health conditions because we are all very different.  I’ve always believed it must be much worse for a man though to admit he needs help then for a woman.  For all the obvious reasons.

    If your friend won’t communicate directly with you and the others, how about writing him some encouraging messages with details of where help  may be found.  I notice fellow commenter DPM has mentioned several such organisations in his post.

    Ultimately though Tauntoncider, we are all responible for our own lives and as such if anything really bad should happen to your friend then you and the others can at least feel that you did everything you could.  None of you should feel guilty in the slightest.

  • Yes, yes, we have ‘respect’ in football now. In fact, over-exposure might weaken that in time…so if the FA took up a similar RUOK? campaign, Alastair, we’d all notice it.