"It's Absolutely Vital That We Talk About Mental Health": An Interview with Clarke Carlisle

18 May 2018

Former professional footballer and Mind ambassador Clarke Carlisle shared with us his thoughts on mental health ahead of his keynote at our summer showcase. Encouraging us all to talk about what is going on inside our heads, Clarke puts a voice behind the topic, in order to break down the taboo.

Can you tell us about your former football career?

I played across all 4 senior divisions in England, and I was also chairman of the PFA. Since then, I have been retired for four years, during which I have been a co-commentator and pundit, as well starting up my own charity.

I had a wonderful career for a man of moderate ability. It spanned 17 years, and the average career is only 7, so I definitely got my money’s worth! I played in the premier league, I represented England in the U21’s, I got to compete in several playoff finals, and I won Man of the Match at Wembley in 2009, which was definitely a highlight.

You have spoken publicly and openly about your experience of depression. Why is it important to open up conversation around this subject?

It is absolutely vital that we open up and talk about mental health . One of the worst things you can do when you lock up these thoughts and listen to the inner voice is that you allow yourself to be lied to. That voice tells us that you are on your own, and that’s not the truth.

The stats say that 1 in 4 of us have mental health issues, but that's not true. It's 1 in 1. We all have mental health issues. It goes on a continuum and the more we discuss it, the more people become aware of their own journeys, which means that we have more of an opportunity to maintain good mental well-being, instead of letting people drift into a space where they need support.

"The stats say that 1 in 4 of us have mental health, but that's not true. It's 1 in 1 - we all have mental health issues."

21st-century life is the most frantic that has ever been on earth. We are bombarded with images and expectations, and the people around us are continually questioning our belief structures and identities. We see more images in one day than our great grandparents would have seen in a lifetime. This burden that people are carrying is absolutely incredible.

On top of this, the expectation to deliver at work and at home, and to be all these different personas for different people that demand, is a heavy burden to carry. One of the biggest struggles that I had was discovering what type of person I was in all of this. It was a long journey for me to realise that these personas were all different parts of me - the different parts that make up a human being, and I need to respect them all as that.

What steps should companies be taking to ensure the physical and mental well-being of their employees?

As an employer, we are bound by the HSE for protecting the physical health of our employees at work, but this statement actually does ensure that the physical, emotional and psychological well-being of your employees should be protected too. So, you’ve got to ask employers, what are they doing? Are there structures set up for their employees’ mental well-being? If there aren't, you have got to change things. First and foremost, it has to be about the environment and the culture, you have to normalise conversations about your emotional and psychological state.

"21st-century life is the most frantic that has ever been on earth. We are bombarded with images and expectations, and the people around us are continually questioning our belief structures and identities."

Then, you have to put support mechanisms in place, so that your employees feel not only that they are able to use these systems, but also that they should go to them, and that they will be rewarded and considered a better employee for using these services. But, this has to be endorsed from the top down.

How do you go about motivating the audiences to take care of themselves and their employees?

When I speak to companies, I share my personal experience. I managed to play a really successful football  career for 17 years, and ostensibly everything was great. No one would think that I attempted to take my own life on two separate occasions - once at 21 and once at 34. Even though on the surface things can look good, underneath there is often a serious issue that needs supporting.

So I just try to convey my experiences, share where I have been, what I have learned and how now I manage myself on a daily basis.

Clarke spoke at our showcase, The Knowledge Guild - 'Let's Talk: It's Time To Look After You'

Now a radio and television presenter, what have you been up to since retiring from the game?

I am able to contribute on this issue of mental health , which is a burning issue for me. I try to encourage especially men to find out what it is that they want to talk about and where they can get support from. On top of that, I'm a dad and a husband - so my time is full!


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