Northern Ireland

Former footballer Clarke Carlisle now tackles depression

Clarke Carlisle Image copyright Michael McKinlay
Image caption Clarke Carlisle played for England, Burnley and Leeds United

His 17-year career was the envy of many budding professionals.

Among the highlights were playing in the Premier League, being capped by England under-21s and a man-of-the-match performance in the Championship play-off final.

But it was at these enviable heights that Clarke Carlisle often felt at his lowest.

He has twice tried to take his own life; once in his early 20s and again a decade later.

The scars on his head are testament to how close he came to death.

Now 37, the father-of-three's playing days are over but perhaps his most rewarding career has begun.

The former Burnley and Leeds United star has been in Belfast to raise awareness of mental health and the need for better support services.

The talk is for everyone but Clarke says there's one group who need the most help - young men.

Image copyright Michael McKinlay
Image caption Clarke Carlisle addresses young people in north Belfast about mental health issues

He says the highest rate of suicide is among males under 45.

"The belief structure about what it is to be a man... the understanding of what emotions are and how to process them constructively... our young men are bereft of that.

"They also feel that they're bereft of any kind of support structure because they should be dealing with things on their own."

The former QPR and Watford player says it is not an issue that can be tackled just at home, school or work.

He says society, as a whole, is failing to understand and support the mental health issues of young people.

The audience at Clarke's discussion in north Belfast was made up of students and local youth groups.

The big questions from the crowd included: "Who was the best player you played against?"

It was Cristiano Ronaldo, seeing as you're wondering. Robbie Keane was the "cleverest".

But the theme of the talk did not go unnoticed.

"Growing up you always want to be a footballer," said Connor who is a from a local youth group.

Image copyright Michael McKinlay
Image caption Clarke Carlisle wants to raise awareness of depression among young people

Connor said it was scary that depression can affect anyone, even those with seemingly the most enviable lives.

"He has the best job in the world, he's earning loads of money, but inside he's not feeling like he does on the pitch," he said.

"The persona of a guy is that he has to be hard, he doesn't open up to anyone.

"Especially in today's generation, if you say something wrong in school or do something wrong on the pitch you're criticised on social media.

"So, for someone to say they're feeling down today, some people could take the mick out of them on Facebook," he added.

Clarke says the worst of his mental health problems are now behind him, but only after years of working with physiatrists, counsellors and family.

He says there are still "bad days" but now understands he does not have to be alone in his battle against depression.

Nor, he says, does anyone else.

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