Guest blog post from Clarke Carlisle

NB. This post is a lot longer than our regular blog posts, but we didn’t want to edit / delete any of the content that he kindly wrote for us.

“I suppose I’d better start with a few words about who I am. My name is Clarke Carlisle and I’m an ex-professional footballer, pundit and commentator. I am now a public speaker and, along with my wonderful wife (she edited that), go into businesses and organisations across the UK talking about Mental Health and my own personal journey.

That journey is one of multiple suicide attempts, 10 years of undiagnosed depression, 5 years of ignorance about my diagnosis and finally, a year of conscious and committed work on my health and wellness.

I played professional football for 17 years, across all four leagues in England, and represented my country at under 21 level. It was shortly after this accolade that my journey with adverse mental health began. I had won 3 international caps, moved from lowly Blackpool to QPR in London and, for a council estate boy from Preston, was earning a small fortune whilst pursuing my dream in front of 15,000 people each week. Then, during a match against Fulham one wintry January night, it all came tumbling down. An innocuous tackle led to reconstructive surgery on my right knee, an injury that the surgeon believed would end my career and result in my needing a stick to aid walking.

With my dreams in tatters I used alcohol to get away from the pain. 6 weeks of drinking whilst housebound post-op, and I was in a haze that had no objectivity and very little logic. I believed that I was of no use to the world and, at the age of 21, decided to overdose on my post-op painkillers.

Fortunately for me, I was found and taken to hospital, my stomach pumped and I survived. This was the beginning of my walk with depression. It didn’t stem from the trauma of the injury, or the suicide attempt, but because I FAILED to kill myself ( I had never failed at anything in my life), and the whole incident was swept under the carpet without a word of acknowledgement, just left to stew in Pandora’s box.

Over the next 10 years I repeatedly exploded with bouts of irrational, dangerous and/or risky behaviour that seemed to sabotage my own life, work and relationships, for reasons that I couldn’t explain. It was only when I was diagnosed in 2010 that there was a semblance of clarity of what had been happening. My ex-wife was suffering with post-natal depression and, after reading about the signs and symptoms, I identified a lot of myself in the list! My club doctor made the diagnosis and I started a course of fluoxetine the next day.

Even so, I didn’t engage in any talking therapy, any process to understand MY depression, how it manifests itself in my life, early signs of a bout or ways of dealing with/preventing further episodes. So, after repeated cycles of highs and intense lows, further suicide attempts inevitably followed. After the most physically damaging attempt, throwing myself in front of a lorry travelling at 60mph on the A64, I spent 9 weeks in psychiatric hospital. I believed that I was fortunate because I was able to get private care. The in-patient care was outstanding, and my consultant psychiatrist incredible, but once discharged the care dropped off to the extent that I didn’t maintain, let alone improve, my wellness.

After 2 further suicide attempts and another 4 week stint in private care, we knew something different had to be done. We had repeatedly been told that we didn’t want to be “in the system”, as the NHS was “terrible”, but we had no choice when I was once again in the pit of depression and looking for a ‘responsible’ way to end my life.

This is where my life changed, for the better, and continues to move in that direction. Lancashire NHS Trust have a multi-disciplinary team that incorporate a Bio-Pyscho-Social model; basically, they use meds for the biological symptoms, talking therapies for the psychological symptoms, and create care plans to address the social factors that are triggering/exacerbating any illness. We have been guided through this last year through residential care, out-patient care and self-care, through 3 different support teams, all overseen by one Care Co-ordinator, a constant, knowledgeable and reassuring presence throughout.

I know that this isn’t the case for everybody who enters the system. We experienced it first hand with our eldest daughter. When we took her into the “system” as a teenager who was self-harming on a regular basis, we were sent away with a flea in our ears. ‘We don’t give medication to teenagers, it’s just a phase and she’s not sick enough to warrant further care’.

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Where is the logic behind this? Surely a modicum of support now would prevent further, more extensive and expensive care as an adult?

I went to the doctors to get a mole looked at. He didn’t say, “oh, it’s not cancerous yet, so come back when it is and we’ll put you through extensive radio/chemotherapy and medication that might work”! No, I was in an operating theatre within 7 DAYS! I had 3 moles removed and checked just in case! It so transpires that all 3 were fine, but a quick 15 minute intervention prevented the possibility of costly and extensive support needed in the future. Why isn’t this logic applied to an over-extended and under-funded Mental Health support system?

Fortunately for us, we had the tools to be able to support our daughter. With open communication and total honesty, we were able to make the progress that has not only seen her move beyond self-harm, but also become a veritable rock for me on my journey.

My niece entered “the system” in a different postcode. This has seen her sent to residential care, which is a better start than being dismissed. Unfortunately, the care was merely a holding pen where no psychological/psychiatric support was even attempted. She was ‘stabilised’ and then sent straight back home, headlong into the exact situation and circumstances that saw her require the help in the first place!

These 3 situations show how absurd the current support system is. There isn’t any uniform process, that defines what help people will get. It is a lottery to determine whether you will get help at all and, for those who are sent away without support, or without support commensurate to their need, this can have catastrophic consequences. My journey has seen me in hospital with people who are in their ‘nearest’ bed, yet are 250 miles away from home and family. Others are on waiting lists for beds and support that can extend beyond 18 months. This is unacceptable. A wait of 18 hours may as well be a death sentence when I am poorly and in need of care. 18 months is an absolute disgrace.

In all of this, I must pay homage to the people who work in the “system”. I have met many, needed the help and services of many, and they are incredible people, working as best they can within a system that sees a lot of their efforts wasted and unnoticed. They need the right funding, the right processes to follow and a co-ordinated structure to work within.

Until this happens, the need for Blink is blatantly apparent and is of the utmost importance. This is an initiative that can save lives, especially in areas where the MH support system is woefully underfunded and overworked. Where you live or the workload of your local NHS should never determine the quality of care that a person receives, let alone whether they receive care at all. Contemporaneous commensurate care saves lives.”