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Clarke Carlisle Talks About Depression And Mental Health Ahead of London Marathon Run

In the aftermath of his retirement from football, Carlisle lost his “identity and belonging”. He attempted suicide. Now, he’s spoken about the difficulty of leaving professional sport behind.
April 22, 2016, 2:18pm
PA Images

On 22 December 2014, during the morning rush hour, a 35-year-old man was admitted to Leeds General infirmary after a horrendous collision on the A64. He had been hit by a lorry travelling at around 60mph, and been seriously hurt as a result. The incident had caused chaos, with the westbound carriage closed for more than an hour to allow an air ambulance to land on the motorway. The injured man was then airlifted to hospital.

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That man was Clarke Carlisle.

Between 1997 and 2013, Carlisle was a professional footballer on the books of – amongst others – Blackpool, Queens Park Rangers, Leeds, Watford, Burnley and Northampton Town. A prominent ambassador for the Kick It Out campaign, one-time chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association and a semi-regular pundit with the BBC, ITV and Sky, he looked to have a relatively broad set of career choices when he announced his retirement as a player in May 2013. Nonetheless, the end of his playing days took a huge toll. The fundamental lack of "identity and belonging" he felt after retiring was a major factor in his desire to take his own life.

That crash on the A64 had not been an accident, but rather his attempt to commit suicide. He had been charged with drink driving a few hours earlier, and that had acted as the catalyst for further self-destruction. A few months later, once Carlisle was sufficiently recovered from injuries that included lacerations, internal bleeding, a broken rib and a shattered left knee, he told the Sun: "I wanted to die."

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"This wasn't escaping or running away. This was the perfect answer. It made everyone happy and it ticked every box. I took two steps into the road and then jumped into the truck, like a full shoulder charge. I can remember that impact. Bang. Then, lights out."

Now, in an interview with the Guardian, Carlisle has spoken candidly about the state of his mental health at the time of his suicide attempt. Having admitted it is "amazing, bordering on miraculous" that he's still alive, he's discussed his struggle with depression in the aftermath of his retirement from the game. He is planning to run the London Marathon this Sunday in aid of the Bobby Moore Foundation, and has stated that he's thankful to be "fit and able" to compete. By his own admission, he is fortunate to be able to walk, let alone run.

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Speaking to the Guardian's Alan Smith, he's said: "I should be dead. The physical damage should have been irreversible but I was walking within a few days and a few months down the line I'm doing a marathon. It overwhelms me in a positive sense how miraculous it is to still have motor functions and use of my body. I'm delighted, blessed that I can use my life."

Carlisle during his Premier League days at Burnley // PA Images

Carlisle has also spoken about the difficulties of leaving professional sport and losing his sense of purpose in the aftermath of retirement. He's said: "It's incredibly difficult. For the vast majority of players there is a huge hole to be filled.

"Everything in your life is structured and all of a sudden that gets taken away. The job title defines you, and when you leave that you get a loss of identity and belonging. Dealing with that and deconstructing it – managing to direct yourself down another path in life where you have satisfaction – is one of the hardest things to do."

Carlisle suffered with depression throughout his playing career, but apparently hid it from his teammates. Since his suicide attempt, Carlisle's relationship with his wife has broken down. Nonetheless, he now feels better equipped to deal with and recognise his depressive symptoms. "Once you start to manage mental health, it doesn't mean you are immediately cured," he's said.

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"There are some people who go through a bout of depression and never suffer again, but my diagnosis is a recurrent complex depressive disorder. It will come back from time to time. When that happens, I now have a toolkit to deal with that. My self-awareness is raised to a level where I can see certain signs that a depressive episode is about to come on. When that happens, I know what to do to manage the situation."

Carlisle claims preparing for the London Marathon has helped him to cope. He's said: "When you get out there, your thought process can be so tangential, arbitrary and random. Ultimately it lifts and clears space in my head. After a run I feel so much more relaxed, so much more calm and clear." He's raised over £2,000 ahead of the event.

While the PFA has support services in place for players suffering with mental health issues, Carlisle believes that clubs need to take more responsibility for former players. "If we're going to talk about doing more, I think there needs to be a greater involvement from the football clubs," he said.

"They are the employers and it seems really bizarre to me that they don't have a duty of care to their employees, and the onus rests with the union. That doesn't happen in any other industry. If you're an employee of a company, they have a duty of care towards your physical and mental well being.

"I don't understand why football clubs don't follow suit."