West Yorkshire rugby league star, 22, contemplated suicide after injury nightmare

Sitting on the edge of the bridge and waiting for the right moment to jump, former rugby starlet Brett Barlow thought he had finally reached his end.

Brett Barlow comes from a rugby league dynasty

The sporting career he had mapped out lay in tatters - ravaged by injury - and he had sunk into a deep depression.

Seven months on, Brett, from Ossett, is now able to talk about his darkest moments. Once a fit and healthy young man, he had turned to cannabis, had put on five stone through overeating and had struggled to even motivate himself to get out of bed. He thought he had been left with no other option.

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The 22-year-old said: “I just sat there crying. I did that three times. That’s when I knew I had hit rock bottom. I went to the bridge and I just sat there for four or five hours. I don’t why I did it, I think I just felt like my life was that low.”

Coming from rich rugby league heritage, it was all Brett wanted to do. His grandad Bill Barlow won the Challenge Cup with Huddersfield, his uncle played for Wakefield and his brother Mark still plays. Brett had showed great promise as youngster, but a motorbike accident at 16 left him with a serious ankle injury. He played through the pain barrier and was chosen for the Great Britain BARLA squad (British Amateur Rugby League Association).

As one of the best young players in the country, he also had offers from Super League clubs. But Brett, a former Ossett School pupil, knew deep down that his ankle would not sustain the rigours of professional rugby.

“By the time I got to 18 or 19, I knew it was looking bad but I tried everything,” he explained. “I came home one day and threw my boots down and started crying. I knew my dream was over. I’d dedicated my life to it. My mum died when I was 13 and I just wanted to get on and play rugby. I trained every day, I never slacked.

“I kept telling myself I had to live on. I had done an apprenticeship to be joiner when I was 16, but I didn’t want to do that, it was just a back-up plan.”

His desire to succeed shone through in his work life too, being named Youthbuild UK Young Builder of the Year in 2014. In 2017 he was given a bravery award by West Yorkshire Police for protecting a man who was being assaulted in Wakefield city centre.

Despite his positive, outgoing appearance, his ankle was hampering his work life and his mood was sinking quickly. He then found himself overlooking a bridge. He said: “It wasn’t a cry for help, I’d sit where I couldn’t be seen - I just didn’t want anyone to know.

“When you are like that, you don’t care about anything, you don’t think about the consequences of what it would mean to your family or friends.”

Eventually, Brett confided in his girlfriend about his feelings who told him to visit a doctor. "It took me weeks,” he added. “I was too proud and did not want to embarrass myself. They told me I had depression, but I did not even know what that was.

“I’d always been smiling and laughing but then I just felt dead, like I was putting on the smile.”

He was referred to Turning Point Talking Therapies, and then to Andy’s Man Club - a weekly support group set up in memory of rugby player Andy Roberts, a 23-year-old who took his own life. Brett says the support from the club, as well as that from his girlfriend and father, has helped save his life, and is encouraging others who harbour similar feelings to speak out.

“It took me three weeks to go (to Andy’s Man Club), but as soon as I got through the door I felt like I could breathe again,” he added. “They said I did not have to talk but it just came out of me. I started crying and they just supported me. I go every Monday and it gets me through the week.

"I feel like I’m taking small steps now. There’s a still a long way to the top though. The last six months as been my worst part of my life, but I have finally come out of my bubble. I just hope people who are going through a similar situation to me to come out and talk.”

Rugby League Cares Rugby League Cares is a charity set up to help professional players during and often more importantly, after they retire. Although Brett Barlow’s career was cut short before he had chance to turn professional, John Ledger, communications manager at Rugby League Cares, says there is a growing realisation that players need to think about life after rugby.

He said: “There’s more awareness now, since the game turned professional they realise they have to have a career after rugby. There is a view that some players become institutionalised, they are told when to eat, when to train and they have everything done for them, so to go from that to a normal working life, can be difficult.

“Most will miss the the camaraderie and the bond they form with their team-mates, but clubs are doing a lot to get players to realise that they will have to retire one day.”

Andy's Man Club Andy’s Man Club was set up in 2016 in Halifax following the suicide of 23-year-old rugby player, Andy Roberts. It now has over 400 people attending its 18 Monday-night meetings around the UK, including in Wakefield. Open to any male, its aims are to encourage men to simply talk about their problems, and project development worker Andrew Greenway says Brett Barlow’s story is sadly not unique.

He said: “Three quarters of suicides are men under 50, the more guys we get coming through the doors, the more they realise they are not on their own. We are not professionals, we are guys who have been here ourselves. There’s no registration, people can just walk in, grab a brew and sit and listen, there’s no pressure to talk. There’s this toxic masculinity in which men should not talk or show emotions and should just ‘man up’. We need to break this stigma down.”

Andy’s Man Club meets at 5A Cheapside, Wakefield, every Monday night at 7pm. For further information log onto andysmanclub.co.uk