It’s hard to know where to start really, with such a massive issue. Late last night I heard the worrying news that Aaron Lennon had been detained under the Mental Health Act after an incident in which he had put himself in danger on the M602. In a statement released by Everton Football Club, Aaron has had what is now deemed to be “stress-related illness” which appears to be a catch all phrase for the large umbrella of mental health illness.
It’s been clear that there has been something not quite right recently given Aaron hasn’t appeared in any Everton squad since the Middlesborough game in February. It’s not a football matter despite the publicity over some highlighted footballers having mental health problems in recent years. It can happen to anyone.
Unsurprisingly the Daily Mail decided that Aarons salary was relevant to the story.
Thankfully many social media commentators were quick in condemning the stance and along with support from football fans from all clubs shows how far we have come in the awareness of mental health. The increased awareness shows how far our society has come, with Twitter messages to Aaron coming from Stan Collymore, Clarke Carlisle and Frank Bruno who all have experience of mental health illness.
Only a few weeks ago, Prince Harry opened up about his own struggle with mental heath in an attempt to further raise awareness. It was well received, although the stance was condemned by a certain Katie Hopkins which shows that both her and her employers The S*n are not on the same planet as many people.
Other negative stances towards mental health are routinely perpetrated by the various writers in the press including such attitudes as calling depression “the misery movement” and a “must have accessory” by one well known celebrity in her newspaper column. One writer in the Telegraph referred to women routinely taking anti-depressants just for holiday flights and describes zombies outside school collecting their children. One even suggested anti-depressants should be criminalised. But they are now thankfully in the minority.
It can be as simple as when you walk in to work and someone says to you “how are you?” and you reply “fine thanks” and thats the first of many lies you will have to make that day. I’ve heard it so many times, such a simple question and simple answer. Most people know now that mental health illness is indiscriminate. It doesn’t matter what you earn, who you are, your role in life or your personal circumstances. I remembered an article in the Liverpool Echo in February this year in which Leighton Baines was interviewed where he admitted suffering anxiety as a young player. He was at a school trying to encourage pupils to take the stigma away from telling people how they are really feeling. He describes the anxiety he faced as a young player and the expectations placed on him. I’ve placed the link at the end of this blog.
It’s often said that one of the problems with modern day players is that they aren’t accessible anymore. Tales of Dixie Dean and other players getting the bus to the match are legendary. I even remember my own experience of a bloke outside the ground shouting me and my mates over so we could push his car and jump start it following a game. It was Steve Sergeant and he paid us with his autograph.
The bubble many footballers live in these days means that they aren’t as accessible as they were but social media makes them arguably more accessible than ever. Twitter in particular is very harsh. You may have had 40,000 shouting abuse at you on the pitch but personal insults and ill researched insults come hard and fast. I really admire the likes of Gary Lineker who regularly gives as good as he gets in the face of exceptional abuse. The argument that they could just close their account means that they aren’t able to interact with people and why should they?
I don’t know Aaron Lennon’s circumstances but I have had experience of mental health illness which ultimately forced my to retire early from the job I loved. I often think back to Gary Speed and what would have happened if he had been detained under the Mental Health Act. Maybe we would still have had him around today but tragically he gave no signs away which must be so devastating for his family and friends. All we can do is confront and challenge the declining number of sad little trolls who are active this morning while offering support to anyone who needs it. Often a chat is all someone might need to make them feel better. Fans of all clubs have rallied around today and that is really heart warming. At this point, Aaron needs privacy, time, reassurance and no doubt Everton FC will give him that.
I look forward to a time next season when Aaron is announced to the Goodison crowd, in his blue shirt before a match and gets a standing ovation. Get well soon mate!