Niall Quinn inside Pathfinder magazine.

As part of Pathfinder International’s coverage of Mental Health Awareness Week (which begins on May 13), editor, Mal Robinson spoke to former footballer, Niall Quinn to speak about the crossover between athletes and forces personnel, when leaving their professions and the problems this can unearth. Niall Quinn was on Wearside to promote a veterans’ dinner night in support of local based community interest company – Veterans In Crisis Sunderland.

Pathfinder: How important is it that we keep awareness up of Mental Health? Niall Quinn: “Oh it’s vital, more so than ever, when you see all the pressures on young people, the world is a different place to when I was growing up. I was happy just kicking a ball out on the street, just getting tired, running in and getting your dinner, going to bed, getting up the next day. Life was easy, but for young people particularly growing up now and the pressures that are put on them, there’s social media pressures, we see that getting worse and I think it is just so important that people know that there is somewhere for them when they are feeling down.

That is the big part of mental health awareness week and it’s not anything to worry about too much if you feel yourself in a dark place, there are people who can help you and it’s just about readjusting yourself and getting good help where people can click you back into gear, quite easily, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If we had a sore shoulder, we’d get a rub or put something on it, if we had a sore leg we’d put ice on it, why then if we are just struggling a little, why can’t it be so obvious that it’s the right thing to do to go and get a bit of help to readjust, set the dial again and get people into shape. The help is there but it’s sometimes unclear for people how to get there and the stigma isn’t fully gone yet that people should be seeking out help at all stages of their lives for mental health and now there’s mental health awareness week, we can help drum home that message even further.”

PF: Things like VICS event you are supporting, it is important to hold such nights to raise awareness? NQ: “There is something similar and in the same bracket of people who have had a burgeoning, flourishing career in the services and it comes to an end, you know I would have a bit of experience of what it is like albeit in a different environment of a footballer, coming to the end and everything you have trained for, just like the services, you are conditioned for, everything you are programmed into suddenly stops. First thing that happens is your base of friends dwindles and it is something you are not prepared for and when you get into a bit of a rut and I know plenty of footballers as well as service people who have done that and have found that lonely journey and it is hard to get out of and so again awareness and knowing that there is somewhere for you to regroup and recondition yourself for a different kind of future, a group of friends to talk to, people to show trust in again and people to share your stories, your anxieties, your fun, building relationships again outside of that trained world that you’d been part of for so long. It is a difficult place to be, but I think we are all aware that better care and attention should be given to service personnel and funnily enough in a silly way, the footballers that nobody knows about who go downhill, I think they’re very much linked in terms of the experienced problems and I would be happy to support any awareness and support for service personnel who are struggling, including things like a veterans dinner.”

PF: There is a link like you say between sports players and the military when leaving their roles… NQ: “The biggest thing about it is your routine, that regime you are in, you know where you are, what you have to do, physically at particularly times of the day, 10am you have to do this, then a rest, then afternoon sessions, then you are trying to be part of a dressing room, being part of a team and so you are involved in all that camaraderie that goes on there and when things are going well, someone has to dig it out, someone is the person in that team that brings others with them, but if you grow up in an environment like this for your career from being a young person and I know when people sign up for the services they are very young, they get in to this trained programme and that trained programme lasts as long as they’re in active service and the day it stops. Perhaps there’s not enough work done before that day, I think in football that’s certainly the case, I look at rugby and the Ireland team and in rugby you hit 27 years of age, you must go on a course to prepare yourself for when all of this comes to an end and I think it’s a fabulous move and I can only know from the groups I know in football it’s quite horrific how marriages break up after that point, how self esteem disappears, how loneliness creeps in, how bitterness shows itself and it can be avoided. It can be avoided with a thought about it the day you go into the armed forces, or the day you go into a football club, if you know there’s going to be a tough day at the far end and we all ignore it and I ignored it and all of my friends ignored and it does create huge problems and so if I was to wish for one thing for retired service personnel of the future it would be that they had three to five years understanding what it would be like the day they walk out, it should happen in football as well, but if the authorities can see the value in that then I think it would be a huge step forward.”

Niall Quinn was talking to Mal Robinson at the Sunderland Stadium of Light. To see the full digital issue and more on mental health, please click the link

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