New Zealander Chris Jackson had a long and successful international and club career. But throughout it all he battled severe mental health problems. Looking back, he regrets the lack of advice and guidance that could have helped him.
Jackson earned 72 New Zealand caps and captained the team on 10 occasions. He played for clubs in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Twice New Zealand Player of the Year, he was known as a leader, the toughest guy on the team.
That’s why nobody playing with him, or watching, would have known what he was going through. It was only after his career was over that a confession made during an interview with FIFPRO prompted widespread sympathy and support from so many, including FIFPRO. “I was contacted by FIFPRO on several occasions, which made me feel I did matter,” he says.
“I realised deep down I was not happy and needed more in life”
His problems began at the age of 15 after he finished a footballing scholarship with Wimbledon FC in England and returned to New Zealand. “I always pictured myself playing at the highest level in Europe, playing European Cup football. I was feeling depressed and lost after I had touched my dream but came back to reality. ”
Faced with having to organize his own training, trials and contracts he got into alcohol and drugs with old school friends. “I was young and had no mechanism to ask for help.”
From then on he frequently experienced depression coupled with anxiety regarding his playing performance. The pressure bottled up, particularly when he captained teams going through tough times. “I often went inside myself and only found release by going crazy on drugs and alcohol.
FEAR AND NEGATIVITY
"Before international games I would be taking drugs and partying with friends. Then days later I was trying to mark Lothar Matthäus or Ronaldinho!
"I played with fear and negativity. I was just trying to get through each game until the end of each season brought relief.
"I knew subconsciously I had issues with myself when I was kind of bingeing with those vices. I realised deep down I was not happy and needed more in my life."
He now looks back on his career with mixed emotions. His love of the game got him through, but he says: “I feel I could have reached higher goals if I had been given advice and guidance.”
In finally opening up he made everyone in New Zealand football aware that professional footballers might need help too. As a consequence, the NZPFA and New Zealand Football signed a new collective bargaining agreement for the national team which included measures to monitor all players’ mental health.
“I could have reached higher goals”
“I was so happy to see that the CBA for the national team included mental health help for the players and player counselling opportunities. It was worth going out on a limb like I did with my story.” He added that he would love to assist current or former players who are also experiencing mental health problems.
It is because of stories like this that FIFPRO places such an emphasis on player mental health. Our research shows that 38% of current professionals and 35% of former professional footballers reported experiencing feelings of depression or anxiety in the four weeks before participating in the research.
FIFPRO therefore believes that all players should have access to high quality mental health support and we applaud countries where this is now in place.