Belfast Telegraph

Neil Lennon so brave to talk of depression battle

Editor's Viewpoint

Neil Lennon is no one's idea of a shrinking violet. A combative football player and successful manager, he has put up with death threats, assaults and frequent barrages of abuse, but there is one opponent he finds difficult to overcome - depression.

He has spoken out several times on the subject and yesterday revealed that his latest bout of depression could have derailed his attempt to bring Hibernian Football Club back into Scotland's Premier League.

But he did what so many men fail to do; he told others of his problem and sought help. He has freely admitted that the black days can be overwhelming and that he owes a lot to those - friends and medical professionals - who have treated his condition and supported him in his time of need.

Lennon's candid admission of his problems with depression are invaluable for two reasons. Firstly, they highlight an illness that can affect people of all ages and status. Material possessions or wealth are no barrier to mental health issues.

That point was also well made by Prince William and Prince Harry, who went public this year on how the death of their mother, Princess Diana, left a legacy of stress in their lives.

The second benefit of such high profile figures speaking out is that it encourages other men to come clean about their own problems. Many men are reluctant to discuss something like mental health problems because they feel it attracts a stigma, and also because of the macho image that real men solve their own problems.

Mental health problems are much more common than many imagine, but the true scale is unknown because of the reluctance of so many to seek help.

As we well know in Northern Ireland, mental health problems can have lethal consequences. Since 1970 almost 8,000 people in the province have taken their own lives, and mental health problems were a contributory factor in many instances.

In the last 10 years more than £50m has been spent on a suicide prevention strategy. Yet, in 2015, 318 people took their own lives, the highest annual total on record.

It is vitally important that initiatives like the current Mental Health Awareness Week are held to raise the profile of the condition and also to give figures like Neil Lennon a platform to relate their own experiences, which may help others to recover also.

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