EVERY football club in Scotland will appoint named persons to monitor players’ mental health to try to prevent another tragedy like the death of Chris Mitchell.

The 27-year-old, who played for Falkirk, Bradford City and Queen Of The South, took his own life in 2016 shortly after his career was cut short by a spinal injury.

The Chris Mitchell Foundation, set up by his family after his death, has funded “mental health first aid courses” for coaches and staff, administered through the SPFL Trust.

Loading article content

Chris’s sister Laura Michell, 33, from Stirling, said clubs have historically failed to prepare players for a life after football.

“Chris lived and breathed football, he was happy go lucky and never showed any signs of depression when he was younger,” she said.

“He was smart and did well in his standard grades, but he left school at 16 and didn’t get his highers or a degree to fall back on.

“He did the personal trainer course, became a qualified gym instructor and nutritionist, to try and build a career outside football — but it’s not that simple when you don’t have any experience of going for interviews, writing CVs and putting yourself out there.”

Laura said her brother “struggled to accept that his full time career was over”.

“I spoke to him just days before his death and he said he’d been feeling depressed for about six months,” she said.

“We want equip people to spot the signs and symptoms of poor mental health. They’re not trained councillors, psychiatrists or psychologists.

“They’re just someone that has been through an NHS accredited course that can spot where someone might be struggling, or they’re not quite themselves.”

Former manager John Hughes said Chris “always had a smile on his face” when they worked together at Falkirk.

But he he said that he later struggled as he watched his best friend Scott Arfield go on to Premier League success with Burnley.

“You always felt both of them had a good future in the game and it’s difficult when one of them shoots away like that,” he said.

“The hardest thing as a manager is to tell someone that they’re not going to make it, and when that dream is taken away from you it’s easy to fall into depression, feel like your life is over and all is lost.

“One day you’re in a routine, keeping fit in a supportive environment and the next you’re faced with a massive void that a lot of players struggle to fill.

“When I managed Falkirk we encouraged all the young kids to pass their driving test, so at least they could maybe get a driving job.”

Mr Hughes said managers could also benefit from having someone to talk to at times of stress.

He said: “Managers do feel the strain because you’re responsible for the whole club.”

Nicky Reid, chief executive of the SPFL Trust, said: “We currently have two people trained in mental health awareness at 32 clubs and we’re confident that we will reach the milestone of having two people at every SPFL club within the next two months.

“There is an understanding from players these days that their footballing career is likely to be finished by the age of 35, and not everybody wants to be a coach, manager or TV pundit so it’s really important that other avenues exist and that players are aware of them.

Mental health issues in football was brought into sharp focus when Wales manager Gary Speed took his own life in 2011.

Former Burnley defender Clark Carlisle tried to commit suicide in 2014 by throwing himself in front of a lorry. He has battled with depression for 17 years and has talked extensively about in a bid to try and rid the sport of the stigma.

The SPFL Trust and the Foundation are holding a charity golf day at The Carrick by Loch Lomond on 23 May.