THE sporting world united behind troubled England star Aaron Lennon yesterday following news of his breakdown — with stars urging the ace: “Stay strong”.
Lennon, 30, who has been grieving since his grandad’s recent death, was detained by police who feared for his welfare after he was a seen walking down a dual carriageway barefoot.
The winger was held under the Mental Health Act on Sunday at 4.35pm in Salford shortly after his Everton teammates played Chelsea in the Premier League.
The star was taken to Salford Royal Hospital which runs the specialist Meadowbrook mental health unit near to where Lennon was picked up.
Everton said the former Leeds and Spurs player, who represented England 21 times, was being treated for a stress-related condition. The news brought a flurry of support from stars.
If you feel affected by stress and mental health issues you can call SANE’s helpline on 0300 304 7000
Frank Bruno, who has also battled mental health demons, tweeted: “Thoughts r with Aaron Lennon today, stay strong & as positive as possible, there is light at the end of tunnel u will get through this boss.”
Ex-England cricket hero Freddie Flintoff, another who has fought depression, wrote: “Lots of love and wishes Aaron Lennon another cruel example of how mental illness can effect anybody, get well soon x”
Match of the Day host Gary Lineker wrote: “Wish Aaron Lennon all the very best and hope he gets well soon.” Sunderland ace Jermaine Defoe tweeted: “Thinking of you Aaron Lennon. Stay strong and I’ll see you soon. God bless.”
His former club Spurs added: “Get well soon Aaron Lennon12, we’re all thinking of you.”
Everton ace Yannick Bolasie tweeted: “Thoughts are with my teammate. We pray he comes back strong so he can continue doing what he does best on the pitch.”
Rugby ace Danny Cipriani said: “Thoughts and prayers with Aaron Lennon, lovely bloke! It is a difficult place to be.”
Leicester City striker Jamie Vardy, ex-Manchester City, winger Trevor Sinclair and midfielder Kevin Prince-Boateng of Spanish club UD Las Palmas also sent him best wishes.
Pals believe Lennon’s mental health crisis may have been sparked by the death of his grandad Clifton, 85.
The £75,000-a-week ace was distraught after Clifton lost his battle with cancer on March 1. He had been in remission when the disease suddenly returned.
A family friend told The Sun: “Aaron adored his grandad and he was absolutely beside himself following his death.
“Aaron is extremely close to his whole family and took the death very badly.
“People know he is a professional footballer and that he earns thousands of pounds a week and has all the trappings of wealth.
“But he’s actually quite a shy, introverted character who loves nothing more than being with the people he knows best, his family.
“He lives with his brother and is very close to his mum and other siblings.
“They take care of him and have kept him on the straight and narrow mentally for many years.
“He needs their support and they are very upset that he’s troubled.” Lennon, from Leeds, burst on the footballing scene as a teenager. He became the youngest player to appear in the Premier League when he made his debut for Leeds United in August 2003 aged just 16 years, 129 days.
He made 43 appearances for his home town club before being sold to Tottenham Hotspur in June 2005 for £1million. He was then 18.
But as a young man away from home it is believed he struggled to settle in London — despite spending ten years at White Hart Lane — and often returned to Leeds.
Lennon was loaned to Everton in February 2015 before signing a £4.5million, three-year deal with the Toffees seven months later.
He has played 50 times for the club but has slipped down the pecking order under manager Ronald Koeman. He last played a game for the Blues on February 11.
Before the club’s draw with Manchester United on April 4, Koeman said Lennon was “not in a physical way to be part of the team”.
Lennon’s turmoil comes amid calls for more to be done to help footballers deal with mental health issues and an urgent need to lift its stigma in the game.
A study by world players’ union FIFPro found that 35 per cent of all retired professional footballers have depression and anxiety. This compares to a rate of between 13 and 17 per cent in the general population.
Last night the PFA said a growing number of former and current players were getting in touch with a player welfare department it set up in 2012. It offers a 24-hour phoneline and access to a psychiatrist.
Head of welfare Michael Bennett said: “I felt a lot of onus was being placed on the physical aspect of players playing football and not enough on their emotional side.”
He said many players see it as a “weakness” to seek help but as more talk about their problems the more the “taboo” is brought down.
In 2012, former Bradford City striker Dean Windass revealed he had contemplated suicide following the end of his playing career.
Ask for help
WE are sad and concerned about the sectioning of Aaron Lennon as all mental health problems can cause such suffering.
Not only to the individual concerned but to family, friends and colleagues.
It also highlights that psychological stress and emotional breakdown is no respecter of success, wealth or status.
Mental illness affects as many as one in four and young men can be particularly vulnerable. If you, or someone you know, might be depressed it is important you or they go to a doctor and ask for help.
Or you can call SANEline, which is open between 4.30pm and 10.30pm, on 0300 304 7000.
By Marjorie Wallace, chief exec of mental health charity SANE
If you need to talk to someone about issues raised in this story, call the Samaritans on 116 123 from the UK or mental health issue charity Mind on 020 8519 2122.
If you feel affected by stress and mental health issues you can call SANE’s helpline on 0300 123 3393