Last year, Kirsty Oliphant tried to take her own life but now the former Dundee United defender hopes to use ‘the power of football’ to help others suffering from mental health problems.
Oliphant has been battling her demons since she was 15 but ‘snapped’ last year as she attempted suicide.
Thankfully, she was unsuccessful and the 28-year-old believes the football community played a huge role in her recovery to a better place.
The Dalgety Bay-native is now hoping her studies in mental health nursing at Abertay University can see her become a ‘role model’ and a beacon of hope for those experiencing their darkest days, on and off the pitch.
For the ex-United and Dunfermline centre-half, a terrible knee injury in her final season with the Tangerines was what sparked a spiral that left her feeling lost.
Oliphant reflects on her struggles: “I tore my meniscus and they said I couldn’t play football anymore but then I did and made it a lot worse.
“I was with Dundee United from the very first trial so it was heart-breaking.
“I thought ‘if I don’t have football, then what have I got?’ because that’s always been the absolute crux of my life.
“I didn’t know what to do next. What do I do on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night or Sunday for matchdays?
“It’s always been taken up by football so I felt a bit lost.
“It was just everything getting on top of me leading up to my attempt. I’d been feeling rubbish for ages but I got a couple of diagnoses back when I was 17 so I had an idea.
“It was just a build up of things and I snapped and did what I did.”
Oliphant is on the road to recovery now and is urging others to simply talk to someone if they’re feeling low.
She continued: “Because of what I did, physically I had to recover from it and I still am.
“I was in Carseview for six months recovering psychologically under a compulsory treatment order.
“I had to see a plastic surgeon every week and there was an option of surgery but I’ve chosen not to do it because I see it as a battle wound.
“That scar saved my life. They gave me an option for a skin graft but I’ve chosen not to take it. I don’t want to be ashamed of it.
“I’ve been on medication since I was 17 and I’ve got a community psychiatric nurse and a psychiatrist, so that’s been a lifesaver.
“My CPN is one of the best people I’ve ever met – he’s absolutely amazing at what he does.
“I’ve been battling mental health issues since I was 15 and my advice would be to talk.
“Talk to your friends, talk to your family, whoever, please just talk about it.
“Don’t let it build up and get to breaking point like I did. I didn’t speak to anybody or tell anybody I was struggling.
“Last year before my attempt I was bottling everything up and it’s not healthy.”
“If it wasn’t for football I wouldn’t be here”
Fifer Oliphant, who played for United from 2015-19 as they rose through the divisions, believes more needs to be done to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health issues in society.
However, she was bowled over by the support from her football ‘tribe’.
“If it wasn’t for football I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t have been around for a long, long time,” she added.
“Something would’ve happened back in my teens if I hadn’t had football because it gives you that release and sense of community.
“I had friends, family and the football community rallying around me, definitely.
“It was team-mates, coaches, clubs, players from others clubs. I even had other clubs on their official social media accounts direct messaging me being really supportive.
“Football was amazing for me. I was quite taken aback by it but it really did help.
“It was a huge source of support for me.
“As soon as you’ve got a ball at your feet, you don’t have any other worries. You’re completely focused on training and games.
“When you’re a part of a team it just instantly lifts you. You’re part of a tribe and that’s how I struggled a lot when I stopped playing football.
“I was part of these tribes all my life and then suddenly I’m not. That was really difficult for me.”
Football as a powerful tool for change
Oliphant believes old attitudes towards mental wellbeing need to be stamped out and is hoping to become part of a new generation working in the sector, and football, aiming to achieve it.
“There’s still so much stigma going around,” she continued.
“That’s part of my role as a student mental health nurse – trying to reduce and stamp out the stigma involved in sport, especially.
“You’re told to be tough and resilient and all these things but when it comes down to it, if you just can’t, who can you go to?
“You’re expected to be strong and carry on but that’s not possible, we all have dips.
“It sounds clichéd but I wanted to be somebody that when somebody looks back on their recovery journey they think ‘she made a difference’.
“That’s the person I want to be – a role model.
“I was on placement last year and there was a wee lad who found it really difficult to just sit down in a room and speak to me.
“I always have a ball in the back of the car just in case so I said to him ‘why don’t we have a kickabout?’ and it was absolutely amazing.
“The amount he opened up just by having a ball at his feet. He was able to talk to me and speak about all his issues.
“It just shows you the power of football.”
Griffiths is a start but more must be done to help our boys
Oliphant heaped praise on former Dundee striker Leigh Griffiths for being a positive mental health role model in the men’s game and hopes it’s just the start of more open conversations taking place.
She commented: “When Leigh Griffiths wasn’t attending Celtic training because of his mental health I think that shone a light on it.
“I think more professional athletes, and footballers in this country in particular, do need to start speaking about it.
“These guys and girls are role models for younger kids. We can’t have them growing up thinking they can’t be a footballer because they have a mental health issue.
“We don’t want people hiding it.
“I think the women’s game is doing a better job of highlighting these things than the men’s game.
“It’s spoken about a lot more, generally, these days.
“In Scotland and England we’ve got players coming forward and speaking about their problems and I think that gives young girls a bit of confidence to be able to share their emotions.
“They have these role models saying ‘I struggle sometimes’ so they’ll be looking up to that thinking ‘it’s OK because look where she is and I can get there as well’.”