Gilly Flaherty: Everybody struggles with mental health in some way

May 23, 2020

As a seven-time Women's FA Cup winner and two-time league champion, it's easy to understand that Gilly Flaherty hates losing.

Growing up as a young footballer, the England international often cried when her team lost, but accompanying her tears was a feeling of shame and embarrassment.

In an exclusive interview for The Football Show on Sky Sports News as part of Mental Health Awareness Week, England international Flaherty says over the years she has learnt to understand that it is okay to cry.

"Football was my release, football has always been my release, and even now the moment I turn up for training I forget about everything," the West Ham captain said.

"But I think it's more acceptable now to talk about stuff to not be seen as weak.

"I think growing up if you cried after a game it was seen as weak and passionate - and that's something I really struggled with, because I am so passionate and so competitive that when I used to lose growing up I would sob my eyes out afterwards.

"But it was more so because I couldn't cope with the embarrassment and hurt that I felt. Now it's to the point where if I cry, I cry, I'm not bothered if anyone judges me or has an opinion about it.

"I think clubs are now more aware of it (mental health issues affecting players) and there is more education in regards to it.

"I think everybody suffers with mental health - some more than others - but I think people suffer in different ways and have different levels of intensity with it.

"If people are honest with themselves everybody struggles in some ways."

Flaherty, who was part of the Arsenal squad that won the quadruple in the 2006-07 season, says the best thing anybody who has something preying on their mind can do is reach out to someone.

"One of the main things I have taken away over the years is that it's okay to talk to people," she said. "Don't be embarrassed about it.

"And it doesn't necessarily have to be about talking about the issue you are suffering from or that you are thinking about - it could be about a completely different subject, which might lead onto that.

"You've just got to take that brave step in opening up and speaking."

Flaherty has an enviable medal collection and is one of the stars of the women's game but the 28-year-old gained a new-found respect earlier this year, when - as part of the FA's Heads Up mental health campaign - she publicly opened up about her attempt to take her own life.

"The reaction I had to that was fantastic. It has been incredible," Flaherty said.

"I think people see me in a different light now because I am such a tough character on the pitch. I think people find me a lot more relatable, and they know that even though I had everything going for me in my life, there was a point where I hit a brick wall and I couldn't see anywhere else to turn.

"There wasn't just one thing I can pinpoint (that got me to that stage). I think it was a load of things that came together and I just went bang."

Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from May 18-24 2020. Find out more here.

If you're affected by issues related to mental wellbeing or want to talk, please contact the Samaritans on the free helpline 116 123, or visit the website.

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