Guest blog: Sean Lunt’s take on mental illness in Football

Football must do more to end the stigma surrounding mental illness

The news of Aaron Lennon’s hospitalisation this week brought the issue of football’s role in helping mental illness into stark focus once again.


It is something that has affected the sport deeply in the last decade alone. The sad losses of Gary Speed and Robert Enke show mental illness can affect anyone at any time.


One loss of life is too many and football must strive to bring about a change in thinking when it comes to the subject to help ensure there are not more in future.


The reaction to the Lennon news was a perfect example of this need for a shift in mentality. In reporting the story, the Daily Mail thought it prudent to pinpoint his earnings in their headline.


The underlying sentiment behind it was that a man earning millions has no right to be anything but happy. It is a thought that many share, either openly or privately.


In a country where Tory cuts are leaving millions heading to food banks, the notion of a millionaire suffering is one they cannot fathom.


It is that archaic thinking that causes those who suffer to retreat rather than seek help and one that football must do its utmost to help eradicate.


Mental health problems are as indiscriminate as any other illness and that logic must become the norm in society. Football, with its power to bring about social change, can help that become the case and it is vital it does so.


Helping to de-stigmatise mental illness and bring about a better understanding of the subject is something that could save lives now and in future.


Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales. Imagine how many of those could be prevented with the help of football.


If just one man or woman elects to speak out or seek help for their struggles as a result of the football community doing it’s utmost to end the stigma, then that is not only a huge victory for the sport but also society as a whole.


Nobody, other than Aaron Lennon, knows the finer details of his struggle and that is how it should be. The Everton man must be given time and privacy in his recovery.


However, the wider issue of mental illness is not one that should be swept under the carpet. In fact, the opposite is what is required, especially in sport.


There is no need to openly discuss the player but using his situation to bring about an open discussion about how football deals with mental health would be a smart move.


It also provides football with the perfect chance to stand up and help bring about the change that both it and society needs when it comes to the subject.  It’s time to end the stigma and football must play its part.


By Sean Lunt, Freelance Football Journalist.