Chris Kirkland realised the dream of millions of youngsters in playing football at the highest level for his country (England), and representing great domestic clubs like Liverpool FC and Wigan Athletic. However he has recently opened up about his battle with depression whilst he was playing football, which ultimately led to his retirement after he left Bury FC before the 2016-17 season began.

Chris explained that his battle with depression started when he left Wigan Athletic for Sheffield Wednesday FC (because the football manager at the time expressed that Chris was not in his plans for the First Team). Chris says that he never wanted to leave Wigan Athletic.

Chris encapsulated his struggle with depression when he described having panic attacks and anxieties about mundane things such as traffic.

‘I didn’t want to do anything. I wanted to shut myself off. My head was just… I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t wait to get to sleep at night to have a little bit of clear mind. But when I woke up in the morning, it all started again’.

Sheffield Wednesday were unbelievable. They came up with a routine’.

This story highlights how difficult mental conditions can be for employees to deal with, and also illuminates the reluctance employees may have in disclosing this information to employers. It also highlights that mental health can affect anyone, including highly coveted and successful footballers like Chris.

Employers should be aware that the legal definition of disability takes into account a ‘mental impairment’, as well as a physical one. Therefore if employers do not treat these employees with care, there is a risk of disability discrimination. Employers must be aware that just because they do not know, does not exempt them from liability for disability discrimination if they ‘should have known’ about the employee’s mental disability.

Therefore tips for employers to lower their chances of liability for disability discrimination include:

  1. Providing a medical questionnaire for employees when they start employment, giving them an opportunity to notify their employer of any illnesses.
  2. A positive working environment may encourage employees to be more forthcoming to employers with any mental illnesses, allowing employers to deal with them effectively.
  3. Another more obvious tip would be to provide adequate training for line managers so they can be better at detecting and handling mental illness (the Mental Health at Work Report 2017 highlighted that only 24% of line managers are trained in mental health).

There is no doubt that awareness of mental health is improving, and experiences like that of Chris only highlight how seriously employers should take mental health.

By Zahid Reza

Image used under CC courtesy of Tyler Yeo