Christopher Butcher, the son of former England captain Terry, returned home from tours of Iraq and Afghanistan with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
He had bad dreams, psychosis, voices in his head. “Demons,” as his father describes them now. Terry and his family felt helpless and frustrated as they tried to understand what Christopher was going through, but could only watch as he isolated himself in his bedroom, coming out just for meals.
Two years after being discharged from the armed forces with the mental health condition in 2015, Terry would find his son’s body in his bedroom and a coroner would later rule his death was of uncertain cause, but that he had an abnormally enlarged heart which could have been caused by the non-lethal doses of recreational and prescription drugs that were found in his system.
The former Inverness and Hibs manager has been reticent to speak publicly about Christopher’s death, other than a brief statement released by the family in 2017 and an appearance at the coroner’s trial in 2018 in which he accused the Army of failing his son, but he has opened up as part of the launch of a new campaign by Calm – the Campaign Against Living Miserably – to encourage people to seek help, or urge those they know to reach out, if they need it.
“I know what it’s like to live with mental health issues,” Butcher says. “Our son Christopher came back from Iraq and Afghanistan with complex and severe PTSD. He had bad dreams, he had psychosis, he had demons in his head, he had voices in his head. You name it, he had it.
“He had his counsellors to go and see, too, for 45 minutes a week, which is hardly anything, but apart from that he didn’t have anybody else he could speak to, so consequently he ‘hunkered himself down’, as he would call it, in his room, isolated himself, didn’t speak to anyone and only came out for meals.
“He lost his confidence, he lost his self-esteem, and he lost respect in himself. He never really had anyone to talk to outside those 45 minutes that he got from his counsellors.”
This week, England’s Professional Footballers’ Association found in a survey of 262 current and former players, who responded between mid-April and mid-May while the country has been in lockdown to halt the spread of Covid-19, that almost a quarter said they are depressed or have considered self-harm.
While Calm has seen record numbers access their helpline, some mental health support groups and charities have experienced a drop in numbers, and there is concern that those who often use their services no longer have the privacy when they would usually engage.
Suicide is the biggest killer of men under 45 in the UK and there are now, on average, 18 deaths per day from it. Three-quarters of those are male. Calm – in brewers Carling’s first campaign, called Caring TeamTalks, as part of a three-year partnership – is using football as a vehicle to reach those at risk.
“As someone who has been involved in football my whole life, I’ve seen how significant sport can be to people’s physical and mental health through playing, coaching or watching,” Butcher says. “So with no football on our screens and with more important issues affecting people’s lives, it has become even more vital that we look out for each other, especially those going through a really difficult time.
“That is why I am proud to support this campaign because the message is so important. In these testing times, caring conversations with family, friends and neighbours are vital for general wellbeing but it is also reassuring and comforting to pick up the phone and talk to someone else that cares too.
“Mental health problems can tear individuals and families apart – our family is one of many that felt helpless and frustrated as we tried to understand our son’s illness and despair. Chris very much felt isolated and alone, even though we were there for him; it would have been a great help to have had someone who was unconnected to the family to speak to. He did have a medical support team but it was at night that he felt most vulnerable – that’s when he needed help the most.”
Butcher has been joined by figures across football, including Everton players Seamus Coleman and Simone Magill, former Brighton and Newcastle manager Chris Hughton, former England defender Stuart Pearce and former Watford striker Marvin Sordell, in sharing videos on social media.
• Manned by professionally trained staff, Calm’s helpline services are available from 5pm to midnight, seven days a week on 0800 585858. Providing practical, anonymous and non-judgmental support and advice, whatever you’re going through. For more information about Carling and Calm’s TeamTalks campaign and to view more videos visit: www.thecalmzone.net/caring-teamtalks
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