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Gareth McAuley

Kyle Walker flouting lockdown rules was a cry for help

Gareth McAuley


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Kyle Walker has apologised after breaching restrictions. (PA)

Kyle Walker has apologised after breaching restrictions. (PA)

Kyle Walker has apologised after breaching restrictions. (PA)

I can understand why Manchester City and England defender Kyle Walker was castigated last week for flouting lockdown rules and visiting family members.

It appeared yet another selfish act from a professional footballer who had already flouted the regulations when he hosted a party with two sex workers at his flat last month.

But on closer inspection, I can also understand why he chose to break the rules again.

I'm not saying he was right - after all, I like many people have been unable to be with my loved ones when they needed me most, not even being able to give my mum a hug after my dad passed away.

But I honestly believe Kyle was struggling with his mental health and there are only a few people he could trust for reassurance and one of those was his sister. That's why he went to her for a hug.

There is this perception that just because footballers have health, wealth and talent, that their lives are free from anxiety, fears and stress.

On the contrary, I know plenty of professional footballers who find it difficult to cope.

You are under constant scrutiny, you are judged by your everyday actions, the pressure is immense - especially the higher up the Leagues you are - and a large part of your life is played out in the public glare. It's relentless.

When you add in the fact that football, which has been their complete life, has been taken away - there is no longer any routine, discipline or social interaction - it can really get to someone like Kyle.

Kyle needed help and he reached out to his sister and I'm okay with that - especially if my understanding is correct that they were both in quarantine for a period of time and therefore neither one could have Covid-19.

I would much prefer Kyle received a hug from his sister than reached for a bottle of whiskey.

Kyle's actions, though, for me have illustrated how mental health should not be ignored during this time. It's as much a silent killer as Covid-19 - especially in Northern Ireland.

After reading about Kyle's actions I looked into the statistics of suicide due to mental health problems and I was alarmed to find Northern Ireland per capita has the highest rate of mental health deaths in the UK.

It's killing more people than what we suffered during the Troubles and that is just horrific.

The coronavirus and its effects is occupying most people's attention but looking after the vulnerable, those who need help with their mental health, should also be a major priority.

It doesn't appear that a vaccine is going to be found anytime soon, but life still has to go on. People will still have their struggles and that must not be overlooked.

Within the football community, especially in England, I have felt players have taken it upon themselves to make much more contact. Certainly, since my dad died, I've had more people in contact with me than usual, just making sure I'm okay, which is nice.

I know the Irish FA and NIFL have been working hard with relevant government agencies to raise awareness in Northern Ireland and the game is still reeling from Jerry Thompson's shocking death just before Christmas.

I know the phrase 'It's okay not to be okay' has been introduced and I wholeheartedly agree with this but I also want people to realise 'it is not okay to stay silent'. If you need help, please ask for it.

It just shows immense bravery and courage to speak out.

It seems the higher up in the League players go, they have the confidence to seek help.

I want everybody in society to realise their voice can lead to help. There will be no ridiculing or judgment even in the so-called macho sport of football, just an acceptance and a determination to help them.

The coronavirus has sadly overshadowed so many of the battles on the health front.

But one thing that must remain strong is the fight to help people with mental health issues.

We all desperately want the figures for Covid-19 to go down and I hope the next time I look at figures associated with mental health in Northern Ireland they have dropped dramatically too.

It's okay not to be okay but please speak out and ask for help.

One thing that must remain strong is the fight to help people with mental health issues.

Belfast Telegraph