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One year ago Chris Jackson shocked family, friends and followers of New Zealand football. In an interview with FIFPro, the former New Zealand national team captain disclosed he had been suffering from mental health issues for decades, since he was fifteen.

Jackson spoke at the presentation of the mental health research by FIFPro’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Vincent Gouttebarge [INSERT LINK]. Now, with Dr. Gouttebarge’s second mental health study released, Jackson speaks again, looking back at his experiences over the past eighteen months.

“After the interview last year things went crazy for a while, with a lot of ex-players, sportspeople and people in general contacting me to say that they deal or dealt with the same problems as I. They said they appreciated that I brought it into the public eye.”

“Every email, letter, phone call has been a Titanic help and I thank them all so very much. It lightened my own load.”

Jackson learned two things from the reactions he received. The two-time New Zealand Player of the Year understood he was not the only player coping with mental health problems. Dr. Gouttebarge’s latest research shows that 38% of current professionals and 35% of former professional footballers reported that they had been coping with feelings of depression or anxiety in the four weeks before participating in the research.

“It was quite humbling to know so many players at the top level have experienced this huge hidden issue. Most are still trying to deal with it to this day, battling through everyday life. Knowing there were others in the same boat kind of made me realise I was not doing this all by myself.”

Another thing Jackson realised is that publicly speaking about his problems, has helped him more than remaining silent.

“A lot of people offered personal help if I needed it. Although I haven t heard from many since, all were very sincere and caring, which made me feel I had some support.”

“The New Zealand Professional Footballers’ Association (NZPFA) contacted me immediately. They threw all their support and concern right behind me. That included flying me back for an All Whites (the New Zealand national team) game, on which occasion they requested me to present a couple of debutants their national team shirts.”

Chris Jackson portrait 350Jackson (60 caps) continues, “This gesture was incredible healing for me as it somehow acknowledged that I was of use. I would love to see this kind of thing happen with more ex-players, as both current and past players will get something out of it.”

“I was also personally contacted by FIFPro headquarters on several occasions. Hearing their genuine concern for my welfare was quite humbling. To be contacted by the heads of this massive organisation made me feel I did matter.”

“My friends and family were supportive and gave me courage. Even though I felt immensely vulnerable making my confession, they convinced me that I had done the right thing.”

Indeed, Jackson did the right thing. He made everyone in New Zealand football aware that professional footballers might need help too. Jackson was known as a leader, a tough guy, probably the toughest guy on any team, yet even he suffered from mental health problems.

As a consequence, the NZPFA and New Zealand Football recently signed a new collective bargaining agreement for the national team which included measures to monitor all players’ mental health. It is the only CBA in global football that includes such measures.

“I was so happy to see that the latest CBA for the national team included mental health help for the players and also player counselling opportunities for those that should need and want it. This made me feel like it was worth going out on a limb like I did with my story.”

Jackson adds that he would love to assist current or former players who are also experiencing mental health problems. “I feel I can help, particularly the younger ones.”

In the meantime, Jackson, living in Australia, has retired as a professional football player, at the age of 45. He is still working as a cleaner at a local university. “Although it is a healthy outdoor environment, I battle with turning up every day, realising this is my biggest problem.”

Jackson tried his luck in coaching, but after one season managing Cringila Lions from Wollongong, he quit. Disappointed by, as he describes, a lack of interest by the league’s management. “They only worry about making money and don’t care about players or coaches.”

Jackson hopes to find a real job in football, yet he also knows that managing a team might not be his best skill at the moment. “It has been very challenging in many ways. There is an art to coaching and I think it takes years to master, trying to pass on skills and knowledge is a massive effort. I have found that it added another level of worry and stress to my life, with the weight of expectation that the job requires. All is hinging on winning, winning, winning. Honestly, I’d much rather be playing.”

Jackson says he has not searched for professional help to tackle his mental health problems. “I actually don't really know who to see or where to go, along with the costs to see this type of professional help. I guess for these reasons I keep putting it off ... ” This seems to be illustrative for his personality and resembles the person he was in his playing days: a tough man, the first one to offer help, but the last person to ask for help. “For me, the most pressing issue is trying to get out of the working environment I'm in.”

“Finally, I think that the person I was a year ago has grown through this experience, especially with the help of the aforementioned people and parties. With them and their similar experiences to back me up, I feel I'm not so alone, even if I do sink back in that negative frame of mind.”

“It’s still an ongoing challenge, but just knowing people simply "CARE" is a huge help in my recovery.”

 

Also read: New research links severe injuries to mental illness in football 
  FIFPro to unveil new mental health research 
  Mental health: a unique CBA in New Zealand

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