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Watch: Northern Ireland forward Billy Kee opens up in fascinating interview about struggles with anxiety and depression

By Gareth Hanna

Northern Ireland forward Billy Kee has opened up about the 'rat' of his mental health issues in the hope of helping others.

The Accrington Stanley striker spoke to BBC reporter Juliette Ferrington at length about almost giving up his football career and even considering ending his life during his darkest days.

Kee was given time off in October 2016 when his sever anxiety and depression took hold. It was during a 2-1 League Two defeat to Cambridge United that Kee realised the severity of the illness. Having earlier scored in the game, he twice rejected the chance to take penalty-kicks, both of which were missed and Accrington lost the game. That was soon followed by a month away from the club.

"I was rocking on the bed crying, and I wasn't enjoying it. I wanted to quit," he explained.

"(The manager) just said go and have a month off. I made my mind up in the end, I wasn't enjoying it, I just wanted to quit. I moved back in with mum and dad and my dad went 'you're not sitting around, mate. If you want to be in the real world you've got to come in the real world.' My dad thinks I'm the luckiest person in the world to have the job I've got and he went 'get on the building site.'

"Within three weeks I was back at football. It made me realise I'm so lucky to be where I've got to. Don't be chucking that away for an illness."

Kee, who played for Northern Ireland up to U21 level and was named on the bench for a senior World Cup qualifier back in 2009, explained how he even considered ending his own life and how he tried to put those thoughts behind him.

He said: "I was low at the time and you start thinking: 'Will I just drive my car into a wall?'. I think a lot of people struggle with that. You've got to put it in a box and you've got to leave that box in a cupboard. Just leave it in a cupboard and don't get that box out. You know it's there and you can't do anything about that box but you've got to say 'just stay there.'

"Why is someone with the best job in the world going to kill themselves? It doesn't make sense."

Kee is now on medication and admits he has 'come a long way' since that spell away from football. Even another diagnosis has not stopped the man with 18 league goals this season from wanting to 'laugh about things'.

http://inm-test-be-migration-ece4-belfast-01.bluebillywig.lan:8085/migrator/ws/publication/independentBelfast/resource/binary/122874
Billy Kee celebrates scoring for Northern Ireland at the Milk Cup in 2009.

"I take pills and every morning I have to take them," he continued. "Depression is a serious thing and I think people do really struggle.

"This rat comes out about 7 o'clock at night. Lately it's been ok but it's normally when you've got worries or anything and it's pointless little things and it just runs around your head. It's making you not sleep so the next day you're so groggy because you've not slept all night. It's because this rat's just been ticking, ticking, ticking and people who I've spoke to about it, they all have that rat.

"I've just found out I've got bipolar as well and it all links together.

"People think those with bipolar are just snappy people who are very angry but it's not. It can be a lot of different things - it can be spending excessive amounts of money or drinking excessive amounts or eating excessive amounts. That's what bipolar is.

"It's a new one for me. I'm learning about it and hopefully I'll learn more. My new tablets have been good, they've mellowed me out and I think they just take the edge off everything. Fingers crossed they keep working."

Now, within the supportive environment of his club, Kee is hoping he can help others suffering with mental health problems.

"I can come in in the morning and say 'I'm really struggling today,' he said. "They'll put an arm round you and they'll give you a cuddle. You don't get that in football. It's a lot of fronts but with our team, there are no fronts. They're so honest.

"It is all about education and learning about it. Everybody needs to understand a little bit. It could help someone thinking 'I do that regularly. Oh, have I got that?' They could just have a little look into it, they might have nothing but if it helps them in some way, brilliant."

Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman saluted Kee's reaction to his struggles.

"It's a dark word, depression," Coleman told the BBC. "People are afraid of the stigma. Until you've been depressed, you can't tell people who haven't been depressed what it's like. You can try and describe it but, it doesn't make any sense really in your own head.

"One of the first ways to rectify anything is to admit that it's there in the first place and so he should take a lot of credit for the way he's done that. I think it will help other people in the long run."

Kee was on target as Stanley came from 2-0 down to beat Stevenage 3-2 last Saturday. His side travel to Coventry this weekend.

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