Emergency hotline should be set up for depressed footballers at risk of suicide, says PFA chairman Clarke Carlisle

PFA and FA to hold urgent talks with Premier League and Football League to improve support for players suffering mental illness

An emergency hotline should be set up to prevent depressed footballers from trying to take their own lives, according to Clarke Carlisle, chairman of the Professional Footballers Association.

The current support for players is “wholly inadequate,” claims Mr Carlisle, who says he has personally had a “huge” number of phone calls from footballers seeking help.

The “stigma” over mental illness means that there are “hundreds of footballers and ex-professionals out there who are reluctant to come forward for help, and that is what we have to counter.”

David Bernstein, chairman of the Football Association, is backing the idea of a 24-hour hotline where players can speak to a psychiatrist or counsellor, according to Mr Carlisle. The two men met last week to discuss ways of helping footballers with mental health problems.

And the PFA and FA plan to hold urgent talks with the Premier League and the Football League to improve support for players suffering mental illness.

“If we adopt something that is universal and applied unilaterally across all four leagues, and it’s funded externally of the football clubs, then we can guarantee a level of care for every professional in the game,” said Mr Carlisle. 

The former premiership defender, who retired from Northampton Town last month [June], reveals he tried to commit suicide as a young player after a career threatening leg injury while playing for Queens Park Rangers in 2001. Football is a sport where “you’re only a tackle away from losing everything,” he comments.

In a new documentary being broadcast on BBC Three on Tuesday, Football’s Suicide Secret, the PFA chairman admits: “I thought I’m going to take all these pills and kill myself because I am now of no use to anyone...I sat on a bench popped 50 odd pills and waited for it to happen...Luckily I was found by my girlfriend and rushed to hospital in time to have my stomach pumped.” He kept his suicide attempt a secret from his team mates.

Many of his fellow professionals have “suffered in silence and even considered taking their own lives” says Mr Carlisle. The film features others who have been suicidal, such as former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie and ex-Norwich City striker Leon McKenzie. Another who features in the documentary is Lesley Speed, sister of Wales manager Gary Speed, who was found hanged in 2011. “He was depressed, He hid it from us. People suffering from depression are not only fighting their illness but also the stigma that goes with it.”

Football is “an insecure profession” which can lead to mental health problems “very easily” according to FA chairman David Bernstein. He admits mental health has been “badly neglected in the past,” but says it is “crucially important” it is addressed.

Additional reporting by Natalie Room