West Ham women’s captain Gilly Flaherty speaks poignantly on mental health battle

Gilly Flaherty of West Ham during West Ham United Women vs Arsenal Women, Women's FA Cup Football at

Gilly Flaherty of West Ham during West Ham United Women vs Arsenal Women, Women's FA Cup Football at Rush Green Stadium on 26th January 2020 - Credit: Gavin Ellis/TGS Photo

West Ham women’s captain Gilly Flaherty has given a poignant interview on her struggles with mental health, as part of the ‘Heads Up’ initiative that begins this weekend across football.

Gilly's wide-ranging interview with the BBC's Football Focus, in which she reveals that she attempted to take her own life, follows the recent Time to Talk day which encouraged people to openly discuss mental health.

Gilly emotionally explained that she took an overdose in 2009 when she was 17, after a culmination of factors led her to a very dark place: "Little things like my weight when I was younger was picked up on.

"I was away at the Arsenal academy, I was living away from home. I wasn't close to my family at all. I wasn't doing well in college.

"Then obviously I was dealing with the fact that I knew deep down that I was gay, and I didn't know how to handle that."

Gilly has spoken out to highlight the importance of talking about mental health, emphasising that she herself has a support system were she ever to feel like she did at 17.

Gilly credits her parents, sister and partner for always being there to talk, and urges everyone to find 'that person', be it family, friends or someone else.

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Gilly highlighted some of the most destructive nuances of mental health, particularly the battle with perception: "I know I'm probably seen as someone, in regards to football on the pitch, like I'm tough. But that doesn't mean I'm that tough off the pitch.

"This is why I felt like I had to say it, because it's the people that you least expect it from."

Football, both womens and mens, is often seen as an environment where any vulnerability is deemed a weakness.

For Gilly, however, real strength comes from the ability to be open.

She says she has endured 'tougher times' since that period, but being able to talk freely means that she has never again considered taking her own life 'as an answer'.

Much has changed in 11 years with respect to the discussion surrounding mental health, and Gilly hopes that her honesty will evolve the conversation even further.