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'They won't regret it' - Brendan Clarke urges League players to use mental health services


Brendan Clarke of St Patrick's Athletic. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Brendan Clarke of St Patrick's Athletic. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile


Brendan Clarke of St Patrick's Athletic. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

St Patrick's Athletic goalkeeper Brendan Clarke has urged players suffering on account of the Covid-19 crisis to avail of mental health services after a survey highlighted the fears of footballers here.

Clarke has decided to open up on his previous use of a support line available to players here if they need help to cope with the stresses of this unexpected emergency.

Almost two-thirds of professional footballers in Ireland (62 per cent) are now worried about their future in the sport, according to a survey by world players union FIFPRO.

Close to half of the footballers canvassed detailed symptoms linked with anxiety and depression and, while the majority of those are on the milder end of the scale, the revelation that 19 per cent reported moderate to severe depressive symptoms - compared to 7 per cent-11 per cent in normal times - prompted Clarke to speak out.

The Irish players' union, the PFAI, have a mental health professional, Mary Larkin, on call and ready to speak on a confidential basis with any individuals who are struggling amid uncertainty about their livelihood, and the loss of routine.

Clarke (34) says players with issues weighing on their mind should reach out and speak because it helped him at another point in his career when he required assistance.

"It probably took me longer than it should have to ask for help," says Clarke.

"But if lads go and do it, they won't regret it.

"If I was working on a construction site and needed help to lift something, I'd ask for help. That's the way it should be viewed.

"The survey shows the crisis is worrying lads and in isolation it's possible to over-think things.

"They shouldn't be afraid to ring someone and speak.

"The PFAI have sent out emails with tips on how to deal with mental health stuff to all the members, that might be enough for some people, but there's others that need that bit more," Clarke adds.

"There's a stigma that's there about seeking help but it's getting better. I got help in the past, I'm delighted I did, and I'm 100 per cent not ashamed of it.

"It's about getting a problem out there that people can help you with. Mary Larkin is a phenomenal woman, she's so good at her job, and you will end up questioning why you haven't done it sooner."

PFAI chief Stephen McGuinness says that his discussions with members have gone beyond the obvious fears about finances and contracts. He adds that the loss of routine and structure is also a worry.

"Players like to know what they are doing. From the day a footballer starts playing, they know exactly what to do. Now that structure is broken up. Lives have changed overnight."

The league's proposed return of June 19 was devised with the idea that training would return in May with a four-week lead-in.

But all parties are braced for the announcement on restrictions on May 5 and the implications for the sport here.

"It is weird," says Clarke. "There's so many things you miss. It's all well and good doing a gym session on Zoom but footballers are creatures of habit. People are anxious about what happens next."

Irish Independent