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Aaron Lennon news indicates that much more support is needed

DETAINED: Aaron Lennon

MENTAL HEALTH issues in society have always been a taboo subject - and in sport, from what I have observed and been told by professional athletes, it is 100 times worse.

The news that Everton’s Aaron Lennon had been recently detained under the mental health sent shock waves through the football industry.

The 30-year-old was taken to hospital for assessment after police were called following reports of “concern for the welfare of a man”. His club has said he is now ”receiving care and treatment for a stress-related illness”.

For me, this was the realisation of what many professional sports people had forewarned me about. They had told me in detail about the rollercoaster of huge highs and lows that an athlete faces. They explained how it felt to have their lives judged as a success or failure based on their last performance. And vitally, they made it crystal clear that sports people showing any signs of mental “weakness” would risk having their career taken away.

Of course, we do not know the details of what caused Lennon’s illness or what triggered the events that saw him detained.

But as I read the news, I also thought about the sports people who will be suffering in silence that are too scared to come forward and seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health issues.

My friends Leon McKenzie and Jason Brown, both former Premier League footballers, have suffered from depression. They are people I admire hugely for speaking about their own experiences, as a way of encouraging others to come forward and get help. Stan Collymore, Jack Green and Clarke Carlisle are other leading lights in this area.

The response to Lennon’s illness has been hearteningly positive - with huge support on social media - but for Collymore in 1999, he was left isolated and told to stop complaining when his battle with depression was made public. We should be thankful for the progress made in this respect.

The Professional Footballers Association are also doing some fantastic work lead by Michael Bennett, their head of player welfare.

The player association has a network of counsellors up and down the country working with players - and Bennett is always on call should urgent care be required.

But despite the good work going on - so much more support is needed across sport. No one should have to suffer mental health issues alone, and in an industry that spends so much time on physical preparation it is clearly vital that more investment is needed in emotional support and wellbeing.

Football is not short of money at the moment - TV deals have brought in billions of pounds - so there can be no excuse for not acting now. And across the other sports they must simply find the resources as a matter of urgency to address insufficient support.

Finally, I hope everyone reading this thinks about how they look after their own mental health. Let’s crush the taboo once and for all.

* Leon Mann is a journalist and broadcaster

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