ELLISON ON BATTLING DEPRESSION
ELLISON ON BATTLING DEPRESSION
Ellison has played for 13 clubs throughout his career and has a reputation as one of the toughest players in the Football League. The 39-year-old believes his depression started around 8 years ago, after he signed for current club Morecambe, up until recently only three other people knew about his illness, one of them being the PFA’s Simon Barker.
Over the years, bottling up his grief following tragic family events exacerbated his illness, “I wonder if I’d spoken about my grief, would it have helped? Surely it would have done, without doing anything about my own mental health, I suppose it was inevitable that at some point it would blow up in my face and those closest to me.” Instead Ellison would hide his mental health battles by becoming “an actor through depression”. He would always be the loudest person within a group, amongst his friends and teammates he was the joker.
“Football was a relief,” he said. “It might have only been for 180 minutes across two games a week but for the last eight years, it has been my escape from realities. It was like a tablet. Football helped me get through the situation I was in. If I don’t coach in the future, I will have to go to work and I think about that a lot. I’m still doing something at 39 that I wanted to do when I was nine years old. What will fill the void of football? I have no answer for that.
“It does worry me, though there’s a difference between worry and depression and I’m not depressed anymore. I get asked what would happen if Morecambe released me. It might come to a situation where the gaffer says, ‘Kev, it’s time to stop – but I’d like you to coach…’ If that happens, I’d have to weigh everything up because while I still think I’ve got something left in the tank, I want to play whatever level that will be at. Football helps me burn off stress and I’m not sure what else will be as effective.”
Ellison believes there are many other footballers doing as he did, concealing their illness out of fear.
“Football dressing rooms are ruthless. Sometimes players use banter as a way of increasing spirit, but they also hide behind banter to try and belittle someone that might be a threat. Players appreciate that other players are there to take your job. The potential upshot of that is, you get dropped, you get released and your kids don’t get fed – we’re not paid that much in League Two and we’re not all qualified to do something else. What happens if someone else is a threat, especially if they show a sign of weakness? They get targeted.
“Players will continue to hide issues around mental health because they fear what the reaction will be like if they admit they have a problem. One of the reasons I kept it quiet was because it worried me that the club might use any admittance as a reason to let me go. Once word gets around in football, it’s difficult to get in anywhere else. It becomes, ‘He’s got this, let’s swerve him.’
“Ultimately, I know that by speaking about depression, it could affect me getting a coaching job or a role in management further down the line. But I don’t want sympathy or attitudes to change towards me. I’ve been through the worst and I’m over it. Hopefully, there will be understanding rather than sympathy. From rival fans, I want the same treatment as before. The worst thing that could happen is if we play away on Saturday and there’s silence.”