Neil Lennon has offered sympathy and words of encouragement for Leigh Griffiths after it emerged this week that the Celtic and Scotland player has been given time off to deal with personal issues.
The Hibs manager has spoken previously about his own mental health problems, and is hopeful that the 27-year-old former Easter Road striker, whom he brought to Parkhead during his time as Celtic boss in 2014, will get the help he needs and be back in action early in the new year.
“It’s a difficult time for Leigh but with the right support, which he will get, and self-discipline we’ll see him back on the field, maybe not by the end of this month, but certainly after the winter break,” Lennon said ahead of tomorrow’s meeting between Hibs and Celtic at Parkhead. “From my experience, it’s maybe been four to six weeks, and it will be the same for him. I don’t know how he would feel about it being public but going to get the support and talking about it, keeping your family around you is the first step to recovery.”
Celtic supporters unfurled a banner with words of support for Griffiths during Thursday’s Europa League match against Red Bull Salzburg and Lennon is heartened that the wider public now have a greater awareness of mental health and the fact it can manifest itself within anyone regardless of their perceived success.
“There is a better understanding of it now, which is great,” said the Hibs manager. “When you see people like (boxer) Tyson Fury, who made not only a recovery from depression, but his recovery in the 12th round to get up and finish the fight, it shows it can affect the strongest of people, and the mentally strongest of people as well. Leigh has nothing to be ashamed of, he needs to treat it like a hamstring injury – he might be out for four to six weeks and he’ll do his bit with a little bit of self discipline and sacrifice and get through the hard bit and come through the other side.
“I’m sure it was there in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, but it is far more prevalent now to the public and there are far more platforms now for people to come forward and get help.
“We all have our issues, whether it be addiction or whatever, and we’re human beings at the end of the day. The problem is your life is played out in very intense public gatherings. For public sporting people, it can be magnified that way to make it difficult to get the time you need to recover.”
Lennon experienced depression in his time as a player but he didn’t reveal it publicly until towards the end of his career. “I didn’t admit to it until I was more or less retired and I had a couple of bouts of it while I played,” he said.
“That was difficult. I spoke to a couple of my mates but the club doctor was the one I leaned on more than anyone else. It’s probably difficult for other people to understand what you’re going through because we all have our own issues in life, problems and whatever it is you want to call it.
“If you haven’t gone through it yourself or don’t know someone that has gone through it then it’s far more difficult to comprehend. You can’t see it, people put up a front and there are no blemishes on your face or anything. It does affect you physically sometimes and it can affect your appetite and, in my case, lose some weight. It’s a difficult thing to go through but when you come out the other side of it it’s such a great feeling and a life experience.”
Lennon’s own issues have made him more empathetic towards any of his players he senses are going through a difficult time in their private life.
“We’re playing a game at the end of the day,” he said, placing football in context when set against an individual’s mental health. “Everyone has their own individual foibles. It can be over something or nothing and all of a sudden it takes control of you rather than you being in control and that’s the scary bit. I see it in people’s body language and differences in personality. There’s a difference between being off form and being ill. I’m sure Leigh’s in good hands and I’m sure he’ll get better very quickly.”