During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we have been speaking to a number of sports professionals and athletes. Here, we spoke with former Brighton & Hove Albion, Southampton and Leicester City midfielder, Dean Hammond.
Throughout the last 12 months, whilst coming to terms with a global pandemic and being forced to stay inside to protect ourselves and others, the conversation around mental health has opened up on a scale unlike anything seen before as society continues to try to understand how our own minds work.
Former professional footballer, Dean Hammond, has taken the opportunity throughout the course of the pandemic to open up about his own struggles, as well as align himself to the path he wishes to take throughout the remainder of his career, away from lacing up his boots on the pitch.
"Mental health can mean many, many different things," Dean started, when asked about the subject. "Something that is really important - and only something I realised once I had finished my career - is trying to understand yourself and being comfortable in your own skin, especially coming from a competitive world such as football.
"At times, it can feel like you're wearing a mask and you're trying to hide who you are or you become someone you feel as though you need to be to progress in your career and get to as good of a place as you can to achieve your dreams and then when the games finished, you've created this person that you're not. For me, that's where my struggles began."
In football, your career is only a short one, with many players retiring from the game during their mid-30s, leaving them to have to consider and plan for the long-term future in their lives.
"I thought I had it all figured out and I really didn't," said Dean. "I didn't plan to finish football when I finished and it happened simply because I was mentally drained. Physically, I think I could have easily carried on and could be playing now but mentally I was so drained from the pressures and expectation that comes from playing football.
"I had a plan to finish at 40-years-old but I ended up stopping at 34 so I didn't know what to do. I had a financial plan in place, which didn't quite work out as expected as well. There was lots of ups and downs and lots of challenges I had to face at once.
"One of my biggest regrets is not having a plan earlier in my career and I wish I found what I was interested in sooner. When I left school, all I had was football and I am someone who had to be dedicated to their craft and live and breathe football to get the best out of me and be the best player I possibly could. I think I did that to achieve my ultimate dream but what I didn't realise at the time was that there is a life after football and I didn't prepare for that.
"When I finished playing football, I felt like I lost my identity and purpose of what to do for the rest of my life. It was a tough transition that I could have made easier for myself by having that plan. Everything in life is a lot easier when you have a plan of the direction you are heading in."
Whilst struggling with some of the lowest moments, Dean admits he found it hard to open up initially to those around him, which made it a more difficult problem to deal with.
"When I was going through the low moments, I didn't open up or allow anyone in or to support me. Not my family, my wife, kids or close friends. It was only when I did open up that things really changed.