When news broke that Everton midfielder Aaron Lennon had been admitted to hospital with a stress-related illness, the football world moved quickly to wish him a speedy recovery.
Well-wishers tweeted and sent him messages of support in the hope that the former England international will come back from whatever dark place he currently finds himself in.
Thank you for all the kind messages for Aaron. We are supporting him through this and his family has appealed for privacy at this time.— Everton (@Everton) May 3, 2017
It’s a common occurrence in football. When something terrible happens, the larger community rallies around to support and protect their own and rightly so. This situation, though, shows that the sport as a whole must do more to help its stars when it comes to mental well-being.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem in a year, while over 10% of the population have depression at any one time. There are likely millions involved in football suffering at this moment in time. Some have been able to recover, such as the likes of Stan Collymore, Clarke Carlisle and Joey Barton. Others, such as Gary Speed and Robert Enke have sadly not.
One loss of life is one too many and football must strive to improve not only the way it helps those suffering but also the stigma that still surrounds mental health. Carlisle, the former chairman of the Player’s Football Association, is now campaigning hard to raise awareness of the issues following his battles.
As far as he is concerned individual clubs should be doing more to protect their stars and he is right to say so. Rather than treating their players as commodities, they must first and foremost treat them as humans.
These clubs have a duty of care to ensure both the physical and mental well-being of their employees and footballers should fall under that bracket.
An overhaul of the strategy employed is needed to ensure that players are protected. Mental health screening, something that Carlisle advocates, would be a smart first step. It is time the football community caught up with the rest of the world.
The same can be said of the wider footballing family, namely those of us who purport to be fans. Read the reaction to the Lennon news and among the waves of support, there are the idiots, those that question how a footballer earning £50,000-a-week can possibly be depressed.
It is that archaic thinking that the football world must help eradicate. These are simply idiots seeking attention on social media but there are many who will quietly feel the same.
For those earning wages far below that of the modern day footballer, the idea of a man with a comfortable lifestyle not being happy is outrageous. The Daily Mail headline on the story emphasises the point. It is that type of thinking that causes players to retreat rather than seek help.
Aaron Lennon has been detained under the Mental Health Act, and this was the Daily Mail's headline. Shameful. pic.twitter.com/CTdcJncbnk— LateTackleMagazine (@LateTackle) May 3, 2017
Football must eradicate such opinion if it is to move forward and better protect its players. De-stigmatising mental issues, not sensationalising them, must become the norm in the football community.
None of us knows the ins and outs of Lennon’s situation and there should be no speculation behind it either. Instead, he must now be allowed the time and privacy to help him come back to his best. The football world is praying that proves to be the case.
His situation should not be ignored, though. It’s time that there was a big shift in football’s thinking. It must do more to help end the stigma around mental health.
If you or anyone you know is suffering from mental health issues, please visit MentalHealth.org where you can find information, guidance and much more on the subject.