Jesse Lingard has bravely opened up on his own experiences of mental health and how he considered taking a break from football last year because of it.
Lingard has had an extraordinary 2021 after joining West Ham United on loan from parent club Manchester United in January, scoring nine times for his new club and earning himself a call up in the most recent England fixtures and has put his rejuvenation down to sharing his feelings and how mental health had affected both himself and his family.
The 28-year-old revealed how his mother's struggle with depression had had an impact on his own mental health whilst playing at Manchester United and left him considering his playing career.
“Not quit football, just have a time out really,” started Lingard, speaking to entertainment show Presenting. “I was going into games happy sitting on the bench and that’s not me. I was telling my brother the other day: ‘Remember when I was happy sitting on the bench and all this?’ I didn’t want to play because my mind wasn’t there, I wasn’t focused at all. I was thinking about other things and obviously bottling it all up; trying to play football, you can’t do it.”
Lingard's mother has suffered with depression for much of her life and whilst receiving treatment in London, the midfielder was left responsible of looking after his younger brother and sister, whilst trying to remain focused on playing.
“Through the years we had the help for her, but even just for me it’s hard to bottle things up,” Lingard said. “It feels like you’re not the same person. I felt like I wasn’t Jesse Lingard. Even in football matches, I felt like the game was just passing me by, like I just didn’t want to be there – it was crazy … So, I opened up to United and told them what I was going through, what my mum was going through and they’re always there to help.”
Until last season, Lingard had enjoyed a positive period in his career, featuring regularly for Manchester United, and even being a part of the England side that reached the World Cup semi-final in 2018. The start of the first lockdown in March 2020 was a turning point for him.
“I could have easily quit in lockdown, been like: ‘Nah I don’t want to do it’. I could have easily given up but the fight in me always brings me back to life and in lockdown I was just smashing gym, doing runs. I wanted to get back to training fitter and faster than anyone else and I did that.
“I feel like lockdown has kind of transitioned me in a way. I watched my old games back and watched the World Cup games back and I thought: ‘Yeah, that’s the real Jesse Lingard.’ The time that I had going a couple seasons back or last season, it just wasn’t me at all and you can see that.
"My brother who lives with me, he could see that and he’s got a video of me literally laying on the couch and I’m just staring for three minutes into thin air and he’s just thinking: ‘What is he going through? He’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders.’ And even he didn’t know what I was going through at the time.”
Lingard has enjoyed an incredible second-half to the season at West Ham United and there is still lots for him to fight for, with the Hammers chasing for a place in the Champions League and a European Championships on the horizon, which he will be keen to impress for.
“I feel like with my mum and me I’ve learnt that when you open up you feel like a butterfly – you’re in a cocoon and then you can spread your wings, you can fly. It’s an amazing feeling and now I’ve got all that behind me and I can concentrate on football and my family.
“Of course, you’re going to get dragged through and there are going to be highs and lows and you might have a low point but you’ve got to find that something in you, that never give up, that attitude to go again, go again, go again, because I’ve never been a quitter.”
Author: Jake Wilkin