The former Gunners and England forward has spoken about his struggles and eventual recovery as the FA runs a campaign for mental health awareness
Arsenal legend Paul Merson has opened up on his struggles with mental illness and alcohol addiction, saying he planned on taking his own life before going sober.
After attending Alcoholics Anonymous, Merson is now approaching a full year without drinking alcohol.
This weekend’s FA Cup fixtures are kicking off one minute later than usual as part of an FA mental health campaign – encouraging fans to ‘Take A Minute’ as part of the ‘Heads Up’ campaign around mental wellbeing.
“On Monday I’ll have been sober for a year,” Merson wrote in the Daily Star. “But this time last year, I wanted to kill myself.
“One night I seriously thought about ending it all. I was on my own, which is not the best place when you’re down. Isolating yourself, that’s where the illness wants you.
“It was only because of the kids really, and my wife, and a little bit of consciousness, that I didn’t.
“Fear probably as well. I was scared to do it. When you’re in that place, you don’t see how it’s ever going to pass. But I have the tools now. If I get into a real down situation, I know it will pass.
“So when I see this weekend’s FA Cup games kicking off a minute later to raise awareness for mental health I will remember that time when things got dark and think: ‘Thank god that’s not how I feel any more.’
“It’s only now I know. I have an illness. I have a mental illness. I’ve accepted that now. Before, I used to beat myself up all the time.
“But the more you talk about it, the more it takes the power out of it. I ring people up and tell them if I don’t feel good. Before, I sat indoors, pulled the curtains, and I’d watch the phone ring.
“I thought it was me. But as soon as you find out it’s an illness it opens up your eyes to understand you are not a bad person. You are an ill person trying to get well.
“That’s what I’ve taken out of it – and my life is 100 times better. Don’t get me wrong, I have bad days. But the bad days are better than they were before.
“If I have one piece of advice to give to people – talk. Nothing ever gets better if you don’t talk. Once you talk to people you start seeing the light.
“Some people get depressed and don’t even realise it. They just think they’re a bit tired or lonely. They don’t really understand about depression. It does pass – but you have to talk to people.
“You’re not a bad person. You’re ill and you need to get better. You just have to reach out and talk.”