In October last year, after ten years of keeping my nerves and anxiety to myself throughout my football career, I decided to write about my mental health problems in a personal blog. It was a cathartic process and something I found very difficult to share publicly.
Four months after writing it I finally took the plunge and shared it online, and the response I have since received has been overwhelming. This has helped me to talk more about it and made me realise how much better I feel when I do.
The problems I faced affected my performances as a footballer and led me to have serious self-confidence issues in all areas of life. It was a never-ending spiral of nerves, and my performances on the football pitch suffered as a result. I would think I wasn’t good enough, which led to some tough moments personally. I could become withdrawn and spent many hours alone in my bedroom and not talking to people.
Since sharing the blog I have received nothing but positive words, and many messages of support from footballers and people from other walks of life who are facing similar difficulties. It became clear to me that there is a particular problem with men opening up and speaking about their mental problems. Many hide their issues and suffer for years before speaking to anyone.
However, I believe that opinions towards mental health are changing for the better in football. The Professional Footballers Association has created a helpline for players to talk anonymously, and more and more players are seeking help and support when they need it. The football dressing room can be an unforgiving environment, but now that more players are talking openly about mental health, I hope that it will become easier for team-mates to talk to each other instead of feeling like they will be met with laughter or become the target of jokes.
If sharing my own experiences can help someone then I am happy to do so. I hadn’t even told any of my friends or family before I published my blog, and only my wife knew about my anxiety. This shows just how difficult it can be to take that first important step and talk to someone, no matter how close they are or how good their intentions will be. Now that I have done it, dealing with my issues has become easier. If you feel like you can’t talk to someone, then perhaps do it anonymously first, and see how much easier it becomes.
My own experiences have made me realise that talking is the best form of therapy. Keeping everything locked up inside is the worst way to deal with mental health issues as you just end up thinking the worst and not getting better.
That is why I decided I wanted to try and bring more awareness to the problem, and try to help other people with mental health problems. I know through all the messages of thanks and support that there are many out there that need help, guidance, or just someone to talk to.
After hearing about the work of Support in Mind Scotland, a national mental health charity supporting more than 2,000 people each year across the country, I decided to make the most of a great opportunity to help raise awareness for its work.
In particular, I have become a supporter of Support in Mind Scotland’s annual awareness raising campaign – the 100 Streets Challenge. The challenge is free and it calls on people to walk, run or cycle 100 streets, wherever you are, on any day or days between now and World Mental Health Day (10 October).
The aim of the challenge is to raise awareness for the charity’s work and to encourage good physical health as a catalyst towards improved mental health. For me, although football is where I had most of my problems, feeling fit always made me feel better. I always had improved self-confidence when I was at the peak of my fitness.
Typically the 100 Streets Challenge can be done over a distance of between six and ten miles, although since I moved to Norway in 2016 and now live in a small town, my own challenge could well be a lot further!
I look forward to getting on my bike, clearing my head, and taking part in this challenge and I would encourage people across Scotland and beyond to do the same.
David Weatherston has played for Queen’s Park, St Johnstone, Queen of the South, Falkirk, Stirling Albion, Alloa Athletic and Brechin City. He now plays for Verdal in Norway.