‘My battle with mental illness’

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HARTLEPOOL United legend Joe Allon is trying to raise awareness of mental health issues after revealing he has gone through his own battle with depression.

The Geordie hotshot, who netted 86 times for Pools in two spells at the club from 1988-91 and 1995-98, remains a popular figure at Victoria Park and regularly returns to the town for matches and social visits.

The 45-year-old has revealed how the end of his playing career and the death of his mother five years ago led him into a dark depression.

Joe, who lives with his partner Catherine Harland in Chester-le-Street, said: “Three in five people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime yet many people don’t realise what kind of an illness it is, and there’s still a massive stigma.

“If it helps one person – a footballer or punter – just don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Joe says he hit rock bottom in 2007 when his mother Elizabeth died after a battle with Alzheimer’s disease, though he acknowledges he also struggled to come to terms with the end of his career as a footballer when he hung up his shooting boots because of injury in 1998.

“To see somebody you love suffer is horrible,” he added.

“They don’t realise the dignity they’re losing. She was my best friend and she held the family together.

“It’s quite heart-wrenching when the person you’re closest to doesn’t know who you are.

“When she died I couldn’t face life and needed counselling.

“I didn’t cry before she died, at the funeral or afterwards. But then I went into a clinic and I never stopped crying for 12 hours a day.

“Although her death was the catalyst, the professionals said it could go back as far as being released from Newcastle in 1987. It was a massive build-up.”

Referring to the end of his playing days, he added: “You don’t know what to do.

“You had the best job in the world, then all of a sudden your routine’s gone. You never want to show weakness and you don’t want to burden anyone.

“At the time it’s horrible and you think it’s never going to go away. But you repair yourself and if you follow the counselling it definitely works.”

Joe, who is a popular figure on the after-dinner speaking circuit, is spearheading several events aimed at raising money for Alzheimer’s charities.