Kevin Kilbane believes that the facilities available to players with mental health issues are better than ever, and gave insight into his own experiences with teammates dealing with depression and anxiety. The conversation comes in relation to Riyad Mahrez, amid earlier suggestion from Neil Lennon that his non-appearance at Leicester City’s training is as a result of genuine concerns for his mental health, rather than something more venal.
Speaking to OTB:AM, his comments illuminate the discussion of mental health among footballers, given his seventeen-year career that coincided with a more nuanced understanding of the pressures associated with the game.
“If [Mahrez] is not in the mental state to [train and play], the discussion has got to be had on who he’s going to see from a mental point of view – counselling could be an option for him. I’m sure most people would say “He’s just got to get on with it, he’s being paid x amount of money a week, don’t even worry about it.”
“But there are more complex factors within a sportsperson’s mind... If things don’t necessarily go the way you envisage in your head, if things don’t go right for you... players do suffer mentally. I’ve come across it, I’ve experienced it myself in the past, and I know the work the PFA do to try and help out at different levels.”
Kilbane is positive that mental health issues are no longer stigmatised in the dressing room culture, and believes that the nature of discussion has evolved from when he began in football.
“Lads were going out three or four nights a week [when I started], and many times I would have thought that lads were going out to try and shield something from their mind.”
The advent of a more professional approach to socialising helped in part to develop a more nuanced understanding of mental health and mindfulness, which includes an understanding that sportspeople are no different to other in terms of mental health:
“[The professional approach] brought in a different side, where you had to think about your thoughts and people began to talk openly about seeing psychologists and mind coaches, getting counselling for various issues.”
“It doesn’t matter what you’re earning. It doesn’t matter what your career or profession is. It doesn’t matter. Mental issues can affect anyone, and certainly will affect anyone from any walk of life.
“When players are at various stages of their career, they’re asking themselves serious questions as to where their life is going.”
You can see the full interview with Kevin on OTB:AM, and tune in on Facebook Live and Periscope every weekday morning from 07:45.