Aaron Lennon was detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act for a stress-related illness as police were concerned for his welfare. All our thoughts are with Aaron and his family at this time. Everyone is looking forward to seeing him come back stronger than ever.
Aaron has received an overwhelming amount of support from across the entire game including his fellow professionals, as well as from fans from his current and former clubs. Andy Johnson has pledged to donate 10p to Mind Charity for every retweet he gets for his Twitter post, which currently has more than 100,000 retweets.
Whilst all the support is incredible for Aaron, it really shouldn’t get to the stage of a player being detained under the Mental Health Act for something to be done at club level. There should be more of a proactive and preventative approach rather than a reactive crisis-management approach.
Nigel Clough recently was quoted by The Telegraph in saying this, and I couldn’t agree more.’There is enough money in the game now to make sure players are looked after. It’s preventive as well, because people should be going into clubs and talking to players, managers and medical staff to ask if there are any worries. Heart-screening is brilliant, that’s a physical thing, but you want the mental side to be dealt with, too. It shouldn’t have to get to this point. It should have been identified earlier. With all the money available, it shouldn’t get to the stage where someone is detained under the Mental Health Act. That’s far too severe.’
Within clubs there needs to be mental health screening and resilience building tools available to the players when they need them. Professional football players are under an immense amount of pressure and scrutiny on a weekly basis, which will have an effect on the player's welfare. Workshops and mental health ambassadors are great for breaking the stigma of Mental Health but the athletes need a confidential portal where they can express those feelings and work on their mental fitness when they want to.
The number of footballers coming forward for support to the PFA is increasing year on year according to Michael Bennett, Head of Player Welfare. They have increased the number of counsellors in the past few years to deal with the increased amount of players using the services. It is great there are many avenues for players to go down, but this is when they are in need of help, at a potentially severe state. It needs to be earlier, we need to protect our athletes and any potential issues identified earlier.
I just hope it doesn't come to the stage where we have a fatality within football before anything is done about the mental health of the professional players in the sport. It needs to start within the academies, right through to the first team. Everyone has mental health, it’s about time that we banish the stigma and give players the tools to help them throughout their career.