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Clarke Carlisle on Depression in Sport

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Clarke Carlisle on depression

When people hear the name Clarke Carlisle, some will remember a popular and classy defender who made nearly 500 league appearances for respected clubs such as Burnley, Leeds United and QPR. Others may recall a polite, calm and articulate off field individual who’s accolades are numerous. Carlisle became chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, won Britain’s Brainiest Footballer in 2002 and made several appearances on shows such as Countdown and Question Time. He was also a regular football pundit for Match of the Day, ITV and SKY Sports.

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Despite his many achievements on and off the pitch it is unfortunate that Carlisle should be remembered most for his involvement in a serious road traffic accident.  On the 22nd November 2014 the father of three was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary after sustaining serious head injuries as a result of being hit by a Lorry on the A64 in North Yorkshire. Carlisle later revealed that addictions to gambling and alcohol as well as suffering from mental illness for many years culminated in his attempting suicide.

Mental illness is a topic that is still raw with many Welsh football fans following the sad passing of Gary Speed just five years ago. The Mental Health Foundation reports that at least 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health problem. They also claim that major depression is thought to be the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease. As Christmas approaches the symptoms of depression can be intensified with feelings of loneliness, grief and guilt which can lead to an increase in suicide rates and manic depressive episodes. A happy time for many can be a dark and hopeless time for others and it is these people that we need to look out for as we enter the Christmas period.

Inside Welsh Sport spoke to Clarke Carlisle about the issues surrounding mental illness and discussed his new charity ‘The Clarke Carlisle Foundation for Dual Diagnosis’ which he created to help others realise that they don’t have to suffer alone.

Clarke, could you explain what dual diagnosis is?

“When a person is suffering from a severe/acute Mental Health problems and an addiction issue simultaneously.”
What sort of work does The Clarke Carlisle Foundation for Dual Diagnosis undertake? and where can further information be found?
“We are building the National Centre for Dual Diagnosis. As well as this, we are going around the country raising awareness about DD, and general wellbeing. Our website is under construction, as is a new digital education resource. These will be going live in 2017, keep your eyes peeled!”
Could the NHS be doing more to help sufferers of depression regarding both prevention and treatment?
“Not at the moment because their funding is repeatedly cut. They are doing all that they can. For them to do more they need funding levels that are commensurate with the need, and that is at least 10 times the amount that they receive at the moment”.
What would you advise on the first steps someone presenting symptoms of depression should undertake?
Tell someone. I don’t care who, just make sure that you tell someone.
Did you ever suspect Gary Speed was a sufferer and how could you help prevent the next tragedy?
No. Prevention is a by product of education and visible, trusted support pathways. Increase these, and people’s access to them, then we can prevent more suicides.


Do you think that there is a greater stigma surrounding mental health in football more than other walks of life?

“I don’t believe that there is a greater stigma in football, I believe there is an active reluctance to acknowledge adverse Mental Health. The player is reluctant because they don’t want to offer any reason for a manager/chairman/opponent to think that they are “weaker/lesser” than anyone else. The clubs are reluctant because they then have to address their own responsibility, liability and assess their own duty of care”.

Do you think its still the case that suicide is perceived as a weakness and a “selfish act” instead of the result of a genuine chronic illness?

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“For a large section of society, yes, but that is a changing percentage”
How is this perception changing, especially within sport?
“The only way it can change is by a clearer understanding of what adverse Mental Health is, how it manifests itself and what the potential outcomes are. This is done through education of the masses, especially young people”.
Do you think that playing football helped curb your depression? and do you recommend maintaining an active lifestyle to help with someone suffering?
I always advocate an active lifestyle for someone suffering. It is scientifically proven that exercise can alleviate mild to moderate symptoms of depression, so we all should be active! Once that activity becomes your profession, however, your livelihood, the benefits of exercise are far outweighed by the performance pressures and anxieties. When each session has an outcome that can directly affect your earning power, your ability to support your family, your complete identity within a working/career dynamic, the exercise becomes an aggravating factor, not an alleviating one.
Are you able to detect when a depressive episode is coming on and do you have any specific ways to deal with it?
Yes I do, and that comes from taking the time to understand myself. I have had to really dissect my previous episodes, whether there were catalysts, whether there were recurring situations/emotions/thoughts. Once I knew this, I can then predict forthcoming life situations that MIGHT have a similar effect. In preparing for these situations I definitely minimise the risk of an episode, if not completely take it away.
Do you have a typical daily routine that you stick to?
I do, but I am not obsessive about it to a detrimental level. It is good to have a routine, it allows me to set myself up for the day. It also gives me a frame of reference for when I start to stray from my ‘norm’. I always read my bible in the morning with a pot of coffee. If I didn’t do it this morning, it gives me pause to ask ‘why?’ If it is because I had an early train so didn’t have time, then that’s fine. If it’s because I couldn’t get myself out of bed and didn’t want to engage, then I’ll look a bit closer and talk to my trusted people.
What advice would you give to a sportsman/woman approaching retirement and facing the inevitable “lull”?
Be prepared as possible for an alternative career. Upskill yourself in preparation, not in reaction. More importantly, analyse what it was that fundamentally drove you to participate in your sport, what gave you the fulfillment and satisfaction, and then try and transpose that into another career. If the same base criteria are found, then you need a different option.
What more do you think football clubs could be doing to protect their employees from mental health issues?
Education from top to bottom, youth to senior, cleaner to chairman. To understand an issue is to be knowledgeable about it. How can we support people if we don’t know what it is that we are supporting them with?
Did you receive much support and guidance from any of your clubs?
Not guidance, per se, but a lot of magnanimous support. They didn’t know how to help, but they knew how to help me find help!
Any managers that were particularly helpful?
Ian Holloway, wonderful man. Aidy Boothroyd, a learned man who wanted to know how to help, that is rare.
The criticism that you received from Ralf Little via Twitter, in my opinion showed ignorance and insensitivity towards someone with a serious illness, do you still think this attitude is still commonplace within certain sections of society?
Ralf’s criticism came from a personal friendship gone wrong. He has a good understanding of Mental Health issues, but grievances can warp responses in every issue.
Were you impressed by Wales’ recent Euro 16 performances?
Yes, very much so.
Do think this sense of cohesion and belonging that happens when a nation celebrates together can help people who feel “lost” become part of something?
“This is exactly why sports like football are so popular. The fanatics are often people who are living vicariously through the successes (or failures) of their team. There is a sense of unity that has been lost from comm-unity, a sad truth of the 21st century.”
Apart from the obvious are there any Welsh players that you played with or against that surprised you with ability, strength of character?
“None that surprised me. It is wonderful to see players who you know have talent produce it on the biggest stage. I believe Ashley Williams deserved to perform on this stage, and to the level that he did. I was delighted to see Hal Robson-Kanu show the world exactly what he can do when he is on point.”






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