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Former Republic of Ireland star Jason McAteer opens up about battle with depression



Former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland star Jason McAteer (File photo)

Former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland star Jason McAteer (File photo)

Former Liverpool and Republic of Ireland star Jason McAteer (File photo)

Former Republic of Ireland international Jason McAteer has opened up about his battle with depression.

The 45-year-old former Liverpool star revealed his struggles with mental health issues last year during an appearance on The Late Late Show.

Support has been pouring in today for Everton winger Aaron Lennon who is receiving treatment for a 'stress-related illness' and McAteer said that big salaries don't shield footballers from these issues.

Lennon was detained under the Mental Health Act following an incident on Sunday afternoon. Everton have since confirmed that the midfielder is receiving on-going care.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph today, McAteer said: "Depression creeps up on you. If you wear a plaster cast on your arm, or have stitches across your eye, people will come up to you and ask how you are. When you are suffering depression no-one knows what is going on. In fact, in the company of others you present yourself in such a way as to make everything seem fine. I was the life and soul of the party.

"It is the lonely periods, when you are at home thinking about what is going in in your life, that matters spiral out of control.

"Without realising, you sink further and further. If you don’t get help when you need it it can lead to the extreme and erratic behaviour. You find yourself acting out of character and have no idea how or why you have got to that point.

"You can only hope when the cry for help comes – which in the most extreme cases involves considering suicide – it is not too late. I was lucky. Once I hit that low point after my retirement in 2007 I had the opportunity to get that help.

"Then the lowest point becomes the catalyst from which to get better.

"Where the lack of understanding comes in is when you read people cynically commenting about footballers earning £55,000 a week, asking how can they be depressed?

"It does not matter how privileged your lifestyle, how much money you have or how you dress. This disease can impact on anybody. You don’t just wake up one day suffering. It is a process.

"It is a build of pressures and stresses, both internal and external. In a high profile industry like football you feel that need to perform, often three times a week, and nowadays the scrutiny is even greater than when I was a player. It is not just backpages but social media. You are scrutinised for everything on and off the field.

"Even transfer fees can contribute it. If someone is signed for millions of pound it has nothing to do with the player, but if he does not perform and justify that outlay the criticism is fierce. You have to be good every week. Few seem to consider what impact that can have on the esteem or state of mind of a professional if performances do not meet expectations and they are abused for it."

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"When I was 28 I was once dropped for Liverpool for a Merseyside derby. I swear it felt like my entire world had ended. You think of the modern players who are built up to be the next big thing, then the careers do not quite go the way they thought as youngster. That is a lot to be dealing with mentally.

"In the dressing room you can’t really show weakness. If you show it to a manager or your captain you will be jeopardising your place.

"At the same time, I think the culture is changing. There is more understanding than there was because more players are coming forward. You saw Prince Harry speak publicly on this recently, which can only help. I felt it was important to detail my own experiences in my autobiography.

"The Football Association has a commitment to look after players, especially once they have retired, and I believe nowadays it more acceptable to admit you are suffering. People are sympathetic rather than judgemental.

"Clubs will provide access to psychologists for those players who wish to discuss issues privately. That is to be welcomed. We never had that as players but now awareness has grown about how many footballers are suffering."

If you have been affected by this story and would like to speak to someone, call Samaritans at 116 123

Irish Independent