Former Arsenal, West Ham and Bournemouth midfielder Jack Wilshere says it is important for footballers to speak out about their mental health and realise it is not a weakness.
Wilshere made almost 200 total appearances over 10 years with Arsenal, and scored one of the greatest goals at Emirates Stadium when he finished off a fantastic team move against Norwich in 2013.
He broke into Arsenal’s first team aged just 16 and was due to be Arsenal’s future, but at 29 now, his future is up in the air after he left Bournemouth in May and has been without a club since.
Wilshere told Sky Sports about the challenges of footballers’ mental health, saying: “When I spoke out that I was training on my own, that I was having these thoughts of: ‘what am I training for?’
“The response from everyone really – but mainly people in the game that I respect, ex-players, people that I look up to reaching out to me, saying you’ve still got a lot to give – it made me even more hungry to come back and just enjoy my football again.
“Us as players have to be willing to speak up, speak about our feelings and realise it’s not a weakness, it’s actually really brave and people will help you if you need help.”
Speaking at an event in London, Wilshere said that opening up and talking about mental health has made a big difference in his life.
He said: “The biggest feeling is relief – sometimes you don’t even know that you’re holding onto these feelings.
“Some people might think it’s normal to have these feelings, especially when you’re a footballer and things aren’t going well, you question everything.
“I always thought that speaking out or speaking to someone – especially in the media – would almost come across as a weakness because the general perception of footballers is that ‘they have everything, what have they got to moan about? They’ve got a great life.’
“The depressive thoughts don’t care if you’re a footballer. I think it’s important to speak out.”
Arteta: Door always open for Wilshere return to training
Former team-mate of Wilshere’s and current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta admitted last week he’d gladly allow Wilshere to train with the club, saying: “He is someone that I know who I shared the dressing room with, someone who is so loved around the club with every person here and our doors are always open.”
Wilshere, who was Arsenal’s Player of the Year and voted PFA Young Player of the year in the 2010-11 season and also had 34 caps for England, said: “I spent the majority of my life in that club, I gave a lot to that club.
“To hear the manager – who I played with, who I had a good relationship with, I really enjoyed playing with him, sharing the dressing room with him – to hear him come out and say the door is always open is nice.”
Asked whether or not he would take Arteta’s offer up, Wilshere said: “It can only help me.
“Being around good players, training with world-class players and as well just being in a team environment is something I’m interested in.
“I’m sure that I’ll have a conversation with someone at the club over the next couple of days.”
Wilshere was speaking as part of a mental health campaign between CALM and Original Penguin.
If you are affected by issues related to this piece or want to talk, please contact the Samaritans on the free helpline 116 123, or visit the website.