Supporters can be guilty of placing footballers on a pedestal where they are somehow impervious to the human frailties that can strike down us mere mortals at any time.

Young men want to be them, and women want to be with them. They earn fortunes for doing something that they love. What would a footballer have to be depressed about?

These are some of the views you would have encountered on social media in the aftermath of Everton and former England footballer Aaron Lennon being detained under the Mental Health Act last week.

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But what the issues facing Lennon, and his namesake Neil, the Hibernian manager who openly discussed his battle with depression again yesterday have shown, is that footballers are as susceptible as anyone else to mental health problems. Perhaps more so, given the pressure to live up to an unrealistic image of what a footballer should be.

In Scotland, where suicide is the biggest killer of young men across society and where players on the whole are not blessed with wealth that will set them up for life during their short careers, mental health issues among players are more widespread than health professionals within the game dared to think.

Dr John MacLean, Chief Executive of the Hampden Sports Clinic, is working with colleagues through the Support Within Sport initiative to give footballers here the help they require, and slowly but surely, he can feel a change in attitudes towards mental health in football.

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“It is drummed into Scottish men from a young age that you don’t talk about your problems or get things out in the open,” said Dr MacLean.

“The culture encourages you to bottle everything up for fear of ridicule or looking bad in front of your peers.

“Most people would think that footballers would be the last people to struggle with such issues, but when you think about it, it is actually logical that they would be a high-risk group. Being wealthy is no barrier to having depression or anxiety, but the astronomical financial rewards don’t really exist for footballers in Scotland in any case.

“Yes, at the top end of the game here players are paid relatively well, but the vast majority of players in Scotland are earning much the same as your average person. With that, comes worries about bills, mortgage payments and the same stresses that we all have, but in recent years especially, we have seen issues with a lack of job security.

“Short-term contracts have increased those concerns, and job security is always an issue at some point in a footballer’s career. It’s a ruthless business, it is absolutely brutal, and when players are surplus to requirements they are simply cast aside.

“That can be hard to take when that dream is taken away, or towards the end of a player’s career when they have to adjust to a life outside of the game.

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“Thankfully, we are starting to see real change in terms of attitudes towards mental health, and slowly the culture is changing for the better. Some of the old-school managers would never encourage players to talk about things like that, it would be seen as a sign of weakness. But now, we see a generation of managers that look at an all-over approach to players’ wellbeing, not just their physical condition.

“Players will often speak to the club doctor first, but there is not the fear of letting their manager know about their problems anymore. With people opening up about their own issues, it helps to destigmatise and show players that they are not alone, and they can find the help that they need.”

The findings from a survey of players conducted by Dr Katy Stewart of the Hampden Clinic in 2015 made for stark reading. 64% of respondents said themselves or a teammate had experienced mental health issues, and a significant number of those players has now received face-to-face support.

The exercise has allowed Support Within Sport to understand the root causes of these issues, and in conjunction with PFA Scotland, they have been able to work with clubs to identify where support can be given.

“The response we had was overwhelming,” said Dr MacLean. “The findings were a little bit of a shock.

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“One of the main triggers is social isolation. Players or managers who have had to move to find a club can be particularly susceptible to loneliness and depression. They may be away from their families for long spells, and in cases where a player picks up a long-term injury, they can be even more vulnerable.

“Michelle Evans of PFA Scotland has been a real driving force behind this, and she keeps in close contact with the clubs, visiting them regularly and making sure that players know that they can talk to somebody whenever they may need to.

“We now have a 24-hour helpline set up that a player can call if they need to reach out, and all of the players have that.”

Dr MacLean hopes that footballers can be role models for mental wellbeing, with their example encouraging people to seek help when it is required.

“Players can inspire people to talk about their mental health,” he said.

“Breathing Space are a wonderful charity who work closely with football clubs, and anyone can contact them for help.

“Hopefully we are moving towards a situation where young men in Scotland can look at the examples of figures they respect and admire being so open about their own struggles, and realise that they too can get help.”

*If you wish to speak to someone about mental health issues you may be having, call Breathing Space on 0800 838587.