Neil Lennon: Sacrifice and discipline key for Leigh Griffiths

Neil Lennon’s battles with depression have been well documented and the Hibernian manager is better qualified then most to offer advice to Leigh Griffiths.

Lennon believes the Celtic striker can get through his problems and be back on the pitch after the winter break if he treats his situation like he would a conventional football injury.

Griffiths is taking a break from football to deal with personal issues, with Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers revealing on Wednesday that the 28-year-old forward was receiving help to combat his problems.

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Lennon knows the Scotland internationalist having signed the player for Celtic in January 2014 and can also appreciate exactly what Griffiths is going through, having spoken publicly about his own battles which first affected him as a 29-year-old at Leicester City.

Now 47, the Northern Irishman, whose side host Celtic tomorrow, admits the mental health support landscape has changed immeasurably for the better, and envisages Griffiths being ready to make a comeback after the winter break.

Lennon said: “It’s a difficult time for him but with the right support, which he will get, and self-discipline we’ll see him back on the field, maybe not by the end of this month, but certainly after the winter break. From my experience it’s maybe been four to six weeks and it will be the same for him.

“Leigh has nothing to be ashamed of, he needs to treat it like a hamstring injury – he might be out for four to six weeks and he’ll do his bit with a little bit of self discipline and sacrifice and get through the hard bit and come through the other side.

“It can be over something or nothing and all of a sudden it takes control of you rather than you being in control and that’s the scary bit. That’s the difficult bit to deal with.

“But there are far more platforms now for people to come forward and get help and that’s the first step, to admit there is something wrong and to talk about it and that’s the first step to getting better.”

The stereotypes associated
with mental illness have vastly changed since Lennon’s playing days. Recalling his own experiences, a candid Lennon said: “From my own perceptive I did not admit to it until I was more or less retired and I had a couple of bouts of it while I played. That was difficult. I spoke to a couple of my mates but the club doctor was the one I leaned on more than anyone else.

“It’s probably difficult for other people to understand what you’re going through because we all have our own issues in life, problems and whatever it is you want to call it – that’s just the tapestry of life I suppose.

“You can’t see it, people put up a front and there are no blemishes on your face or anything; it does affect you physically sometimes and it can affect your appetite and in my case you lose some weight, which is great.

“It’s a difficult thing to go through but when you come out the other side of it it’s such a great feeling and a life experience, I suppose.”

Countless sportsmen and women have taken the step of speaking openly about their respective mental health issues, including boxer Tyson
Fury, who turned to drink and drugs in his battle with his depression.

However, against the odds Fury returned to the ring to draw with Deontay Wilder in a WBC heavyweight tile fight at the start of the month.

“It’s not isolated in football, you have a lot great sporting athletes, cyclists and boxers have gone through it as well,” Lennon said. “You have these amazing highs and after that it can be a void and it creeps up on you and hits you very hard. It can affect the strongest of people, and the mentally strongest of people as well.”

Referring to Fury, he added: “Incredible, and I think it’s magnificent. I think it’s tremendous. There have been other heavyweight world boxing champions, I think George Foreman went through it after the Rumble in the Jungle and they’re the biggest, toughest and hardest men you could get.

“They all have their demons. Tyson went from world champion to 28 stone, a complete mess of a person and he has made an unbelievable comeback and I think he’s a great inspiration for a lot of people.

“I think it’s fantastic for him to speak out the way he 
does and to be so honest about it as well.”