With today being world mental health day, we sat down with Director of Football Martin Ling who openly speaks about his past battles with mental health to find out just how important it is to raise awareness.
“The main thing that people who have mental health issues want to do is isolate themselves and not talk about their problems and anything that highlights the fact that it is normal to have these problems is a good thing
With today being World Mental Health day, people are talking about it and the best thing for me was when I began to talk to others during my recovery and people normalised it for me.”
Martin Ling has been open about his Mental Health struggles, which had overwhelmed him when Manager of Torquay United and Swindon Town and led him to suffer a mental breakdown. In recent years, Ling has become a major advocate of Mental Health awareness and has worked closely for MIND, and is in as good a place as ever.
“I say it a lot nowadays, I believe myself to be strong because I can cope with it. Today, I’m in a good space, because I know if tomorrow I wake up and I’m not feeling so good, I know how to deal with it, and how to speak about it”.
Mental health in football was a taboo subject that has been around for many years, but is only now becoming normalised and spoken about through more professionals sharing their experiences more openly.
"Football is a very male dominated sport and to talk about mental health in the industry is really difficult. If you show a weakness and you are a footballer, people seem to think that you’ll struggle to play football. I don’t believe that to be the case and think that now there’s an understanding between the two.
If you had spoken to me in 2009, when I had the first episode with my mental health, I would’ve been very reluctant to sit here and talk about it. Back then, it was a case of if I hide it, it will go away and I’ll be alright, but it doesn’t happen like that. If you hide it away and you keep suppressing your feelings it only gets worse. Once I accepted that I had an issue, accepted that it wasn’t weak of me to have it, it became easier to cope with.”
Ling feels that speaking openly about the subject is what helped him during his recovery and the former Orient Manager feels being able to cope with it is what has made him as strong as he is today.
“By speaking about it so openly about it like I do now and when I go and do talks for ‘MIND’ it’s quite a freeing feeling. On Saturday at our game with Maidenhead United, one of our fans sat in-front of me and he started talking to me, and when we went inside for a cup of coffee for half-time, he said to me ‘Do you know what I admire you most for?’ and I thought he was going to say promotion at Oxford, but he said ‘I admire you for how you speak openly about the mental health problems that you’ve had, and it helped me because I had those problems myself' and we both came away from that conversation feeling good."
Ling continued to explain that at first he ignored the symptoms, but that didn't help as he ended up having a complete break-down before seeking help.
“I had symptoms just after I left here [Leyton Orient] and went to Cambridge, but I didn’t accept it and I didn’t know what it was. I went to see the specialist and they diagnosed me with mild depression and gave me some tablets and a course of CBT [Cognitive behavioural therapy].
If I’m honest, the depression went as quick as it came and the period was very short so I ignored it. The feeling came again and I kept ignoring it and ended up having a complete mental break down. The signs were there for the first and second times and I have had a third period of depression since then, but I’ve coped with it much quicker because of the first two episodes.”
The Director of Football admits that after almost three years since the first signs emerged, he still has some down mornings but doesn’t let them dictate his feelings for the whole day.
“Now, I just treat every-day as a new day and sometimes I do get up and feel a little bit down, but just because I’m not feeling so good I don’t let it become a huge problem to the point where my whole day is ruined. I give myself a talking to, and reassure myself that I am fine and that everything will be okay, then I have a cup of coffee and feel a lot better.”
“Understanding the workings of someone’s mind even if they didn’t have mental health issues would be difficult, but trying to do that with someone who does suffer is even more so. I always describe it as myself having a few loose wires in my head and that some mornings I have to tighten them up with a screw driver.”
Please speak to someone. You can find a list of Mental Health charities, groups and services here.