Suicide; the dark, foreboding word that’s unforgivably hard to approach or even fully understand. Billy Garton hopes to encourage others to speak about their feelings more openly.
Yet, 1 in 5 of us have thought about suicide at some point, and in Greater Manchester alone, over 200 people take their own life each year. Suicide is not only the biggest killer of men under the age of 49, but half of gay and bisexual men have said they have felt life was not worth living. What’s more, while suicide is the leading cause of death in people aged 15-29, student suicides also grew by 79% between 2007 and 2015.
It’s time to talk.
Ex-Manchester United player, Billy Garton, has spoken about the suicidal thoughts he had at the height of his football career, aged just 25. It was 1989 and he was on his way to Old Trafford. Despite training at the famous ground that day, his thoughts weren’t on training, or whether Alex Ferguson would pick him for the weekend’s first team fixture.
“On that day, I just couldn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. There was no understanding or medical endorsement for what I was feeling. Everything I was feeling was negative and I couldn’t see where my career was going. I just had no hope.”Billy Garton
Billy didn’t know it at the time, but he was actually suffering from ME. He couldn’t understand why he felt so exhausted all the time, as his once promising football career began to slip so helplessly through his fingers. Back then, there was little social apathy towards the implications of ME, and many lacked sympathy for those who endured its symptoms.
He was also completely unaware that he was also suffering with depression. Now aged 54, Billy wants to outline how even those we might think have everything in life can inwardly struggle with suicidal thoughts.
Billy said, “It was horrible. I was 25 and in my prime. That season I had broken into the first team and had been played in all of the first 13 of the games of the season. Then the illness started.”
“It started with glandular fever and then turned into post viral syndrome and finally chronic fatigue syndrome or ME, which can be a consequence of glandular fever.”
Billy suffered like this for 5 years, by which time his career was over. “People would say to me ‘you don’t look ill’… or ‘are you feeling better today?’… but I just couldn’t do what was expected of me any more as a footballer. It was embarrassing having to go into training and hide away so I didn’t have to answer those questions anymore.”
“I was a local lad, Manchester United was my team and my dream was over. It was a huge thing for me.”
Eventually, Billy received a diagnosis and his ME was treated successfully, however, his dreams of stardom at Manchester United were over. Instead, he went on to play non-league for Hyde United, before becoming player-manager. Finally, he started a career as a primary school teacher and became deputy head at a school in Altrincham.
He said: “The diagnosis was a big moment for me – to be able to explain to people properly what I had gone through was a big weight off my shoulders. But back when I was suffering, I kept my cards very close to my chest and didn’t really talk about it at all – in fact I was quite guarded about it. I would go into The Cliff training ground and see the rest of lads training, everyone buzzing and happy and I felt resentment, jealousy and envy that I couldn’t play. It was a daily embarrassment and led to depression and, ultimately, to suicidal thoughts.
“It is so important to put aside your pride and share your thoughts and feelings with others at an early stage. I made the mistake of not talking about my feelings but, today, I have great respect for anyone who can reach out.”
Billy now uses his experience to help others by leading Manchester-based PlayOnPro, an organisation dedicated to helping former elite sports stars continue to work when their stellar sporting careers are over. He also supports the work of the Shining a Light on Suicide campaign to encourage people to talk openly about their feelings.
The #shiningalightonsuicide campaign has been commissioned by Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership and is supported by the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and all the partners including NHS, councils, police, fire, emergency services, armed forces’ veterans, and many others.
Encourage someone to talk before suicide seems their only option. Together we can help prevent suicide.
Find out how at www.shiningalightonsuicide.org.uk
If you’re struggling to cope call Samaritans on 116 123