SCOTTISH football has never been without its issues to seek over the years.

Sectarianism, gambling, rioting, our national game has not been immune to troubles throughout society that have drip fed into sport. The latest battle that it is tackling may seem like a new fight, but in truth it is one that has long been a taboo subject that only now is receiving the attention that it deserves.

On the back of funding from William Hill, the Hampden Sports Clinic, in conjunction with the Scottish Football Association and PFA Scotland, launched an investigation into the matter of mental health issues in the game. With 600 Scottish Professional Football League players responding to a questionnaire, the findings shed light on a worrying statistic that threatens to change the way the nation looks at such matters, particularly in football. Of those who participated, 64 per cent admitted that they or their team-mates had suffered from mental ill-health at some point, while 40 were identified to having a significant issue.

Under the banner of Support Within Sport, those at the top of our national game are seeking to address the issue at last. A dedicated helpline has been set up for players and their families to receive the support they need to help cope with the stress and anxiety which comes with the rigours of being a professional footballer, while a free programme with access to experienced doctors, counsellors and psychologists will also be offered to those needing further help.

“We are keen to emphasise that footballers are no different. Sometimes public perception is of footballers with big salaries and lavish lifestyles but that is a small minority in Scotland," said Dr John MacLean, the SFA's medical consultant and team doctor.

“But the vast majority are just the same as the rest of us with mortgages and families to support. I think what football can do is reflect society. What we can do with this programme is to say it’s okay to not be okay from a group of young men who traditionally don’t engage with health services at all, particularly mental health. I’ve been doing this over 30 years and there certainly was a feeling that this was a taboo subject in dressing rooms you didn’t speak about. It wasn’t macho to admit it, and most wouldn’t even admit it to their nearest and dearest.

“We are keen to open this to families so they have a number to phone if they are concerned or to speak to someone at the club. It’s about the wider picture."

Changing the perception of depression and mental health in such an alpha-male environment is not an easy process, or indeed one that has started overnight. It has been a long process that has been greatly aided by Neil Lennon, the Hibernian and former Celtic manager, who has previously spoken out about his own battle with the condition.

Dr MacLean credits the Northern Irishman for putting himself out there and providing a shining example for others to follow.“Neil has been great in doing it in that he is someone with the level of ability and the level he has got to in football can come out and peak positively about mental health and the support he’s had over the years," he added.

“It’s really important to get over to young people and men especially. We are good in sport now at treating and diagnosing, but we have not been particularly good at supporting the players’ mental health. This is an opportunity to get in right at the very beginning, even if it is only a single chat with one of the guys involved, then that might be enough to allay their fears and set them back on to a more stable life."

One part of the survey that did throw up a surprise was the fact many players felt they were able to confide in their coaches or management about any concerns or issues they may be having. It says a lot about the forward-thinking nature of our country's coaches that their men, or indeed women as the programme is also rolled out across the SWPL, can confide in their superior without fear of how it may impact on their career.

Richie Foran is walking proof of such a man. Now in the role of Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager, he previously looked upon his duties of captain at the club as a support figure for those around him. While Foran has not suffered from depression himself, he was honest to admit that he has endured extreme low periods in his career where he felt isolated. With this in mind, he was open about his values as a leader of men, and urged others to follow suit.

"When I was down at Southend I had been out injured for a year and I got myself back in but the manager did not see me in his plans anymore," he explained. "The chairman was trying to drive me out because I was on a high wage.

"I wasn't even training with the first team at the time and I was going back to a big house staring at the four walls on my own as I had no family or friends around. That was a low time in my career.

“As a captain I had players come to me. I always said to them to come to me if they had any problems or issues. I have helped a lot of players and taken them to meetings. One of them was having a gambling issue and I rang PFA Scotland, who have always been great. They set up meetings and I drove him to make sure he got help.

“He was losing his way and was losing his wages every month. That was a couple of year ago but since then he has been doing great.

“I have always felt as a captain and now a manager it was my duty and responsibility to look after my players.

“Someone at the club should always be designated to look after players. They should be speaking to them at least once a month to see how they are. Not all managers like to deal with that side of it as a lot just want to do their coaching part. They don’t push them to the side but they don’t want to deal with the personal stuff. I will always make sure there is someone there who will deal with it and can deal with it.

“It would be a good idea to designate someone at every football club to do that."

For more information on the Support in Sport programme, please visit