Football clubs should employ full-time counsellors, says Burton Albion forward Marvin Sordell after admitting his own battle with depression.
The former Bolton and England Under-21 player, 27, said he felt “dead inside” and tried to take his own life in 2013.
“As a player, you’re told what to do, what to drink, what to eat, your conditioning,” he told the BBC.
“But when it comes to serious issues like mental health players are expected to go and speak to someone.”
Sordell told the Victoria Derbyshire programme: “It’s something the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the Football Association (FA) need to address and even if it’s not someone directly employed by the club, it could be the PFA or FA, they need to be around staff and players on a daily basis.
“They are professionals and know the difference between someone having a down day and someone who is suffering from mental health issues. It could be groundbreaking.”
The PFA has told BBC Sport that more footballers are using its welfare services but PFA head of welfare Michael Bennett said: “We still have to make our members aware of what support is in place.”
Reaction has been ‘overwhelmingly positive’
Sordell, who also played for Burnley and Coventry, and represented the Great Britain football team at the 2012 Olympics, has taken to writing to help his mental health.
He has written a poem called Denis Prose – an anagram of depression – which he says personified the issue and showed “two sides of his consciousness”.
Asked if he thought clubs knew he was struggling with depression during his career, Sordell said: “I don’t know, to be honest.
“I didn’t accept [depression] until I spoke to a doctor. One of hardest things is being able to differentiate between a player being down because they’re not playing, as opposed to someone actually suffering from depression.”
Since talking about his ordeal to the Guardian newspaper, Sordell said the reaction had been “overwhelmingly positive”.
“I don’t think people are sure how the football community will react to speaking about [mental health] and how it would take them personally. It’s maybe a fear thing. Even doing the newspaper interview, I was apprehensive about how it would go and how people would react.
“But fans have been fantastic, and not just from the clubs I’ve played for. The whole football community and my team-mates have been very supportive and I’ve had lots of messages from team-mates and former team-mates.
“It tells me that it’s actually OK to have these conversations. A lot of people have got in contact and want to have this type of conversation but are not having it in a wider forum. If you start the conversation then you never know where it might lead to.”