Paul Merson has opened up during Mental Health Awareness Week on how drink, drugs and gambling pushed him to a dark place and hopes he can help others.
The Arsenal legend and now Sky Sports pundit struggled with mental health issues during his playing career, though admits everything looked fine from the outside.
Merson was playing for one of the world’s most successful football clubs and holding down a starting position week-in week-out, but was hampered by inner demons.
“It was a mad cycle, I’d gamble so much that I’d drink and when I drunk I’d be out so I’d score. But it was the come-downs,” Merson told Sky Sports.
“I used to live 10 minutes from the training ground and it used to take me an hour to get to work because if a car was behind me for 30 seconds I’d pull over because I’d think they were going to kill me.”
Merson’s state of mental health was made worse by his struggles with addiction.
“The first time I ever took cocaine, I went into a pub to meet a mate of mine in Boreham Wood. I walked into the wrong pub, full of Arsenal fans, all taking drugs. [They asked] ‘Do you want some?’ but no, not for me.
“I went home but knew next weekend I was going back. It was the weirdest feeling I’ve ever had in my life but all week I knew I was going back.
“I played Everton on the Saturday, chipped Neville Southall and scored a good goal and I was excited all the way home and thought, ‘I’m just going straight to the pub, I’m going to that pub’ and it was like it wasn’t me.
“I used to drive to work in the mornings with the paranoia and I could literally hear in my head going ‘just pull in front of the truck. If you pull in front of it it’ll smash you and you’ll be dead’. Constantly having that voice in my head.”
Merson has urged people to always seek out help wherever possible and constantly talk if they have mental health issues.
“One thing I kept on telling myself was ‘I am sick, I’m not a bad person’, but when I am sick that’s not me. I think it’s an illness and people who have got it are sick, they’re not well but they’re not bad people.
“There is help out there, I’ve seen it, I’ve seen a million good stories. More good stories outweigh the bad ones. When you hear the bad stories they’re as sad as they come but there is help out there and you have to talk.”
Mental Health Awareness Week is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. Click here for more information.