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Interview discussing Mental Health in Football

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As part of the PFA’s support for Time to Talk Day, Michael Bennett, the PFA's head of welfare and former Premier League and Welsh International goalkeeper Jason Brown spoke to the Associated Press news agency about tackling mental health in football.

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem every year and elite sports-people are no different.

"As silly and naive as it might sound you never think there is going to be an end," the 34-year-old Brown recalled. "You never think when you retire what it is going to be like."

"I suffer from depression and it's nothing to be embarrassed about," Brown states frankly. "I'll never be cured."

It is now that Brown faces the challenge of trying to cope with depression and it comes with setbacks. A few months ago Brown felt he couldn’t whilst he was driving his car on a motorway just outside of London.

"That probably the lowest I was ... the first real time that I made an attempt to actually, where I considered just killing myself," Brown said. "I was so down. I was driving along the M1 and I put my foot down and I didn't take my foot off. And I then I realized that it's not only me I that I am going to be hurting but possibly others. That was a real low, low day my life."

A major part of Brown dealing with his mental health issues is the acceptance of him needing professional help.

"It sounds crazy. I still had the mentality, 'I am a footballer,'" Brown said. "It didn't sink and one day it did sink in, sitting with my counsellor ... and I realized I am no longer a football player anymore. It was quite surreal because all I have known and seen myself as is a football player."

"With my depression what I'm trying to make people aware of is: Don't be ashamed. There are more people who have depression ... you can live with it."

The PFA now has a 24/7/365 counselling telephone helpline service to support members and Brown utilised this in 2015 after struggling to cope with depression after the breakup of his marriage, retiring from the game and finding it hard to deal with the death of his father.

Brown explains: "You become very paranoid, you become very anxious, you don't know who to trust"

"It got so bad when I didn't sleep for five days on the trot. I just had no sleep.

"I wasn't eating. I lost a lot of weight ... I went on this crazy health kick that you would probably associate with someone who was anorexic."

In addition to the helpline, players past and present can access a national network of 90 fully-trained counsellors, all of whom understand the emotional roller-coaster that involvement in professional sport can entail.

"We want to change that mindset," said Michael Bennett, the PFA's head of welfare. "It's important for players to talk about the emotional side of things."

"We as football have a duty of care," said Bennett, "We spend a lot of time on the physical aspects of things for the players. I think we need to spend more time on the emotional side. If a player has emotional issues it doesn't matter how fit they are mentally, if they are not in the right place they can't perform."

Brown had a clear message for any professional footballers who wish to seek help coping with life after football.

"Don't feel that you are weak. It makes you far from weak," Brown said. "Someone who is willing to admit they have a problem is stronger than any type of person who is preparing for a competition.

"With my depression what I'm trying to make people aware of is: Don't be ashamed. There are more people who have depression ... you can live with it."

After undertaking counselling sessions and receiving help from the PFA, Brown works for Arsenal as a goalkeeping coach.

"My work colleagues are very supportive," Brown said. "I openly speak about everything I have been through because that's part of my job and what I want to do — try to help people."

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