Women's Sport: We need more sportspeople like West Ham's Gilly Flaherty

Manchester City Women v West Ham United Ladies - Women's FA Cup Final

Statistics suggest that one in four of us experience mental illness making it one of the leading causes of ill health. Yet while we don't struggle to talk about common colds, it is still a challenge for many of us to express how we are feeling and the struggles we face.

It's a similar situation within sports. Research by the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that one in three sports stars struggle with their mental health and hide it due to fears about how it could impact their career. 

This makes what Gilly Flaherty did this weekend both remarkable and essential. The captain of West Ham Women opened up to BBC Sport, recounting how she attempted to take her own life as a teenager.

Flaherty told the broadcaster that at the time she was struggling to deal with a range of things including living far away from home, college pressures, her sexuality and being picked on for her weight.

She explained why she chose to talk about this experience now: "I've got a responsibility and duty to tell people", adding, "it's about getting people to talk. It's OK to talk about it."

Sports stars are role models to so many. They have a huge influence and platform, so it is crucial that they set an example that others can follow. Through speaking about her own experiences too, Flaherty is showing that opening-up can make a huge difference and be a positive force.

Undoubtedly we need more sportspeople like Flaherty. She is supporting the Time to Talk campaign that encourages us to bust the taboo of talking about mental health and share how we're feeling and when we need help.

The FA have also just launched Heads Up, a campaign that wants "everyone to feel comfortable talking about their mental health, in the same way, they would about football, and feel able to support their friends and families through difficult times."  

Chelsea Women v West Ham United Women - WSL

Opening up isn't always easy, but the more we see players like Flaherty talk about their mental health, the more accustomed we all become to both hearing about and sharing struggles.

It is also crucial to improve the situation for athletes themselves. Through open conversations, teams can work to create an environment that is entirely supportive of athletes and their mental health.

Flaherty isn't the first sportswoman to talk about her personal experiences in public - others include Kelly Holmes, Kelly Smith and Victoria Pendleton - and we owe them all thanks for sharing their personal struggles to benefit us all.

As a society, we need them not to be the last. As Flaherty said in her interview: "We need to talk about it, and we need to let people know, even if someone has got everything going on in their life, it doesn't mean they're not going through tough times.

"I went through tough times so if I can get my head out of that and save myself then anyone can. If you are struggling, I want you to reach out. Reach out to someone."

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