British Olympian Colin Jackson and former Premier League footballer Clarke Carlisle discussed anorexia and suicide at a special event staged to explore race, identity and mental health for Black History Month.
Jackson, a former 110 metres hurdles world champion and world record holder, told an audience at the University of Surrey about the struggles with anorexia he faced during his glittering career.
"Sport has many positives for mental health but I found out to my detriment that there is a tipping point," Jackson said. "I was surviving on just 700 calories, while in full-time training, because I was convinced I was fat."
He explained that it was only thanks to self-awareness about his state of mind and a support network of friends that he was able to climb out of a dark phase in his life.
Former Leeds United captain Clarke Carlisle told of his own journey of self-discovery and how his relationship with his father helped him understand how race can impact mental health.
"In my house, my father was the 'dominant man'. But as soon as he walked out of the front door, this 6 feet 5 black man cowered and was timid when walking past people in the street," the retired footballer explained. "It hurts me when he tells me about his journey - more so than my own. It’s not that he didn’t use opportunities; it’s that they were taken away from him."
Carlise's experiences taught him the importance of bringing up his children to understand and acknowledge their emotions instead of fearing them.
“Whatever emotions they have, they are bona fide. I am no longer emotionally illiterate, and they won’t be either.”
- See also: Teach Me Well - your chance to shape the mental health content in the new national curriculum
- See also: Anorexia Explained
Rotimi Akinsete, Director of Wellbeing at the University of Surrey, curated the event, entitled 'Black Men On The Couch'. He said: “We created it for nights exactly like this - to have successful, intelligent and honest black men tell us all that they too have experienced mental health struggles. Black men are not immune to these dark periods."
"It is important to have these very difficult conversations because, as both Colin and Clarke have shown, there are different available paths on the journey to mental health wellness. The problem we currently have is that not enough men are choosing to start that journey and we must do all we can to change this reality."