Players' group praises Caulker and King after speaking about their battles with depression

Players' group praises Caulker and King after speaking about their battles with depression
Steven Caulker

Professional Footballers' Association head of welfare Michael Bennett feels the brave decision by the likes of Luton goalkeeper Craig King and England international Steven Caulker to share their experiences can only help football to overcome the "stereotypical taboo and stigma" of mental health.

King announced his retirement from the professional game at the age of just 20 today following the decision to reject the offer of a one-year contract extension after depression left him "slowly starting to despise the game I loved".

Meanwhile, QPR defender Caulker, who had loan spells at Southampton and Liverpool, gave a lengthy and brutally frank interview with the Guardian revealing his own battle against mental illness, in which revealed he had contemplated suicide as gambling and alcohol problems spiralled out of control.

Bennett - a former England under-20 international whose own playing career, which started as a raw teenager with Charlton, was hampered by a serious knee injury - wants to see a situation where no-one feels hindered by raising mental health issues and believes sincere accounts like those of Caulker and King can only encourage others to tackle them head on.

"Hearing him being open and honest about his experience which he has gone through, you are looking for those, like Steven, who are sharing their experiences to come forward and let people know what it looks like and feels like," Bennett told Press Association Sport.

"Hopefully that will encourage other players, former or current members, to come forwards and share their own experiences as well

Caulker claims "football does not deal well with mental illness" and highlighted instances of where other professionals had not sought help from organisations such as the Sporting Chance clinic over fear of losing their place in the team as they take time to recover.

It is a situation which Bennett believes must be addressed.

He said: "It is the stereotypical taboo and stigma which we are trying to change in the game and we are making strides with that, because two or three years ago, we would not even be having this conversation, so we have come a long way in a short space of time.

"What we have to do now is when the likes of Steven Caulker come out, or (former Arsenal Ladies and England forward) Kelly Smith, (ex Wales goalkeeper) Jason Brown, or someone like Craig King from Luton, who has come forward to share their experiences, we need to offer the relevant support.

"What we are asking for is to not only educate the players, but we educate the coaches and managers as well, so that when a player does encounter mental health issues, that should not work against them in regards to coming forwards and seeking treatment."

Bennett added: "With a physical injury, you get the treatment, get fit again and then work your way back into the first team - that should be the same with mental health.

"It is not a physical injury which we can see and say 'right, you are going to be out for six weeks', because it is an illness which you cant see, so that is a barrier and the concerns are, 'well, how long is he going to be out for?'

"We need to educate our footballing environment that this is going to happen and what we need to do is make sure we have the right support in place and a better understanding to help people come forwards and then to move on with the next stage of their lives."

Since 2012 the PFA has provided a dedicated service for well being, which now includes a 24/7 helpline 365 days a year as well as a nationwide network of counsellors while a conference is planned for October which will look to share good practice.

"We are also rolling out mental health workshops to clubs, so we are trying to educate the players that when they do come across it, they will be able to understand it and then go to the relevant places for support, whether it be the club, the PFA or outside sources," Bennett said.

"You have to make people aware of what it looks like, how it can impact people and players, so I think football in itself is becoming more aware of it.

"We are just trying to spread the word so we are all singing from the same hymn sheet."

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