Wales and Lions rugby star Dafydd James 'has panic attacks'

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Media captionDafydd James says he suffered anxiety and panic attacks after retiring from rugby

The former Wales and British Lions rugby player Dafydd James has said he still suffers panic attacks almost a decade after retiring.

Mr James fractured a vertebra in his neck which led to his Scarlets contract being cancelled in 2009, effectively ending his career.

The 43-year-old told BBC Wales being forced into retirement also contributed to the end of his marriage.

"I lost my identity," Mr James told Wales Live.

"It was tough. I felt alone, rejected and struggling. A lot of resentment, a lot of anger built up inside me and I suffered badly - anxiety, panic attacks, what ifs. And I still do."

A survey by the Rugby Players Association in England revealed 62% of players suffered mental health issues after retirement, and 52% felt their lives were out of control after two years.

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Image caption Dafydd James playing for Wales and the British Lions

Dr Mikel Mellick, senior lecturer in applied sport psychology and athlete mental health at Cardiff Metropolitan University, said retirement is like grief and bereavement.

"It's the death of who they were, the non-being of their rugby player identity," he said.

"Their whole identity is being wrapped up with being a rugby player from 13, 14 or 15 years of age. When that is taken away from them, particularly if it is a forced retirement... it's not surprising we see a psychological loss response."

Players forced into sudden retirement can face challenges in their personal, social, professional and financial lives.

The Welsh Rugby Players Association (WRPA) is leading work to help players prepare. Last year, in partnership with the Welsh Rugby Union and the regions, it employed a personal development manager at each professional team.

WRPA chief executive Andries Pretorius said: "It's their job to develop the whole person so that a player's identity isn't just tied into being an athlete, but also as a strong and confident individual who can take the transferable skills they've learnt as a player into the world of work."

  • BBC Wales Live is on Tuesday 29 January at 22:35 GMT on BBC One Wales

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