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PFA England has recruited a team of former players who have overcome mental health issues and addiction to provide a support network for PFA members who are experiencing similar problems.


Five former professionals are among a group of 13 qualified counselors set up as part of a network launched last month at The House of Commons. PFA Executive and former player Michael Bennett has been appointed Head of Player Welfare at the PFA and will be assisted by West Ham psychologist and ex-Huddersfield midfielder Lee Richardson, former Bristol City defender Andy Jordan, ex-Rochdale striker Andy Milner and former Coventry City defender Sam Shilton.


The PFA will work closely with the Sporting Chance Clinic and are also likely to draw on the expertise of Darren Eadie, the former Norwich City forward who suffered from depression and has now set up a national helpline, and Vincent Péricard (French footballer born in Cameroon), who since retiring has set up a company aimed at helping foreign players avoid depression and loneliness by adapting to life in England.


Michael Bennett, who suffered from depression after rupturing knee ligaments at the age of 20, believes it is vital his team can empathize with players who phone for help. In the Daily Mail Bennett explained: ‘All of them have gone through some kind of issue, even myself, and that's why they've gone into this field, they've been there. They know first-hand. When players call you and don't know who you are, you say you've played football and the language you use makes them more comfortable. The empathy they offer is great.’


‘It's open to players and former members. Anything related to stress, panic attacks, anger, behavioural problems, as well as gambling or drugs; even not being able to deal with the pressure of football or not earning what they used to. That brings on pressure in itself and problems with the marriage or kids.’


‘I knew there was a need for it. If you pull a hamstring, you get treatment for it. If you've got mental health issues, we're offering treatment for that.’


Recent increased awareness of the issues has resulted in a higher number of calls received by the PFA, a fact that doesn't surprise Bennett: ‘I always felt once the awareness was raised people would utilise the network. I saw 54 players last year one-to-one just because people were more aware of what is available to them and I've seen 17 so far this year.’


PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor said recently: ‘There is a much greater awareness that mental welfare is as important as physical welfare. We want to embrace it. It's not something to be treated as "pull yourself together, you're just feeling down because you're not in the team or not scoring goals". There's a big difference between feeling down and clinical depression. (…) It can be the end of the road for a player's career.'





Yohan Cabaye battled depression
French international and Newcastle United player Yohan Cabaye has revealed that he battled depression earlier this season. ‘Depression? I am not afraid to say that. It was that’, he explained to French magazine L'Equipe.

‘But I was reassured reading the books of English rugby player Jonny Wilkinson and Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal, who both talked about the same thing. They talked about post competition depression and the need to have a break.’

Cabaye said he had to adjust to playing in the English Premier League. He joined Newcastle United in July 2011. Next to that played for France in Euro 2012. ‘My season was long in a league where the pace is higher than in the French league. I started with Newcastle early in July 2011 and finished late in June 2012. For the very first time, I didn't have any winter break so then to resume in July 2012, it was very difficult. Maybe it is difficult to start again after a big competition such as the Euros, but my body didn't allow me to do what I wanted to do.’

'On a morning when I woke up, I could still feel tiredness. I wanted to think about something else rather than football.’

‘I am lucky to earn a living with my passion, but it was the right moment for a break. So my groin injury at the end of the year was finally not such a bad thing. Maybe that is why I was back earlier than expected.’

‘I asked myself a lot of questions. As long as you didn't experience it [depression] you cannot understand. But I was not worried.’

‘My injury allowed me to have some rest, meet my family and friends in Lille. When I was back in Newcastle in December I knew I felt better, but I never complained to anyone but my entourage.’

‘Now that episode is over, I have much more fun going to daily training sessions. I realise how lucky I am. I felt that enthusiasm could leave and that is most dangerous.’