Brighton talisman Anthony Knockaert and Watford captain Troy Deeney have both publicly spoken of their battles with depression and mental health ahead of the sixth round of fixtures in the 2018/19 Premier League campaign.
Knockaert, who has made over 100 appearances for Brighton since arriving in 2016, has struggled for form since the passing of his father last year, and in an interview with his club spoke of the “really tough” place he found himself which made it “mentally impossible” to perform during the 2017/18 season.
“I went through depression last season, which people obviously didn’t know about. It was really tough and mentally impossible for me to go and perform on the pitch”, said Knockaert, 26.
“I went through a divorce last year during the pre-season, so it was really tough to take, especially after my dad [passing away].
“I wasn’t able to do what I should have been doing on the pitch. The club helped me and now I’m ready to talk about it. I’m happy again and everything is going well in my life.
“It’s important in my eyes to leave this message, to help other people who are going through something like this”.
Knockaert’s interview is honest and forthright, with the concluding sentiment that he wants to “leave a message to footballers and people in general, that as soon as they go through this, it’s really important to talk to someone and not be scared.”
Mental health has been increasingly in the spotlight in recent years, furthered by the EFL’s recent charitable partnership with Mind, a leading UK mental health charity. The likes of Steven Caulker and Danny Rose have also spoken out in recent times regarding their own struggles with depression, whilst Per Mertesacker recently spoke of his ‘relief’ at not being selected in his final year at Arsenal due to him “struggling mentally”.
Watford’s captain Troy Deeney is the latest high-profile footballer to speak out, doing so in an interview with the BBC’s Gabby Logan, who, when meeting Deeney, remarked that “I have been a sports journalist for more than 20 years but I have not interviewed many footballers who were as open and honest as Troy Deeney”.
Deeney revealed to Logan, in an interview that will be aired in this week’s Premier League Show, that he currently meets with a psychologist twice a week to iron out personal issues, and the veteran striker spoke candidly over the public perception of how those “with money” cannot show vulnerability and weakness due to their financial fortune.
The interviews given by Knockaert and Deeney, who are expected to start for their clubs this weekend in games against Spurs and Newcastle respectively, serve as a reminder of the pressures that elite sportsmen and sportswomen face, and that put simply, they are human too.
As the perceived societal stigma of mental health diminishes, we are likely to see more and more celebrities and famous footballers open up towards their struggles, and for their contribution to this diminishment and the example they set as people in a position of influence, the actions of both Knockaert and Deeney are admirable in equal measure.