clarke carlisle tease
A footballer's struggles with depression
03:37 - Source: CNN
Lancashire CNN  — 

It started with a feeling of isolation, of not wanting to engage with the world. He didn’t want to answer emails, and hundreds of answerphone messages went unreturned.

Feeling as though the world was against him he didn’t want to leave home. Gripped by anxiety and a fear of impending doom there was a sense everything was about to fall apart and that he was powerless to do anything about it.

Nonetheless, if his world was going to collapse, it was going to collapse on his own terms.

That was in late 2014, when former footballer Clarke Carlisle came very close to ending his life.

“How can I sit here in front of you and say that four years ago, I put myself in front of a 10-ton lorry, at 60 miles an hour and I didn’t break a single bone in my body,” Carlisle told CNN Sport at his home in Preston.

Carlisle had intentionally stepped out in front of a lorry on a road near York, just before Christmas. After several weeks in hospital, he managed to recover from the collision — remarkably unscathed. He describes his survival as a “miracle.”

Clarke Carlisle is pictured in 2013.

‘Britain’s brainiest footballer’

A former English Premier League footballer, Carlisle played for clubs including Preston, Burnley, Watford in a career spanning 17 years.

The 38-year-old was once dubbed “Britain’s brainiest footballer,” even appearing on the mentally bamboozling British game show “Countdown” – he won, taking home the show’s famous teapot trophy.

He says the suicide attempt in 2014 was a turning point for him, but his struggle with depression has persisted and about a year ago, in September 2017, he was reported missing, only to be discovered on the streets of Liverpool.

“I was intent on taking my own life,” says Carlisle, who shatters the idea that footballers lead cushioned and painless lives, unperturbed by the challenges that affect everyday human beings.

“I was wandering around the streets of Liverpool, wondering what’s the best place for me to die.”

He was looking for the most practical way to die. How would he want his wife to find him? What about the first responders? And how would his suicide impact witnesses who found him?

“I was thinking about a responsible way to die. It was that procrastination that allowed a couple of passersby to intervene,” he said.

After his return to safety, Lancashire police thanked members of the public for sharing a missing persons appeal.

Former footballer, Clarke Carlisle, outside his home in Preston, Lancashire.

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‘Triggers’

It’s that disappearance in 2017, which still haunts him.

“Now, a year down the line, where I am in the healthiest place I have been in my life – I would say that is the one that troubles me the most, because it was at a point when I was most aware.

“It’s at a point where I knew that I suffered from depression, it’s at a point where I had established my own charity to help educate others, yet still the illness was able to take me to those depths again.”

Clarke was diagnosed with depression in 2010. With the help of therapy he was able to pinpoint the inception of his depression to 2001, during a period in his career where he had picked up a bad knee injury.

Clarke said injuries were one of the “triggers” for the worsening mental health of footballers.

It’s a view supported by a 2015 study organized by the World Players’ Union FIFPro, which found that professional footballers who had sustained three or more severe injuries during their career were two to nearly four times more likely to report mental health problems than those who had not suffered from severe injuries.

Clarke Carlisle in action playing for Northampton Town in 2012.

As he looks back on his each of his suicide attempts, Carlisle says that they comprised a two-three month descent and ranged from locking himself away to being actively suicidal.

Now, he puts emphasis on self-awareness and understanding himself – managing his mental health with the love and support of his family.

When you’re injured, you can’t play and that creates “a feeling of worthlessness,” says Carlisle.

Other triggers for players can include transferring to another club or having to retire.

“You go from being fundamentally needed to obsolete, which in football usually happens at the age of 33 or 35,” added Carlisle.

“There are many, many things that can contribute to a player’s downward spiral in football and we need to be able to mitigate the impact.”

FIFPro’s 2015 research also showed that 38% of players and 35% of former players reported from suffering from symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Clarke Carlisle in action in 2009.

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‘Spirals out of control’