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WARNING: THIS ARTICLE INCLUDES DISCUSSION OF ATTEMPTED SUICIDE.
It has been four years since David Cox tried to end his own life in the most horrifying way imaginable.
After months of suffering from mental health issues, the former Kilmarnock and Annan Athletic forward decided to grab a knife from the kitchen. In the space of a few minutes, David was slumped next to a grit bin at the top of his street after slicing his throat from left to right.
With blood pouring from his neck, the emergency services - alerted to the situation by David's wife - arrived on the scene to a shocking discovery. As they approached him, police and ambulance staff took a step back as he slowly raised his head to reveal the extent of the damage. He was quickly rushed to the hospital.
It was here when doctors pulled David's wife to one side. "They said they were unsure about how it would go," he tells us. "They said I was millimetres from my jugular vein and that would have been it if the knife hit. It would have been done and dusted in seconds. But fortunately, that's not what happened and I came out fighting in the end."
Like many others who suffer from mental health issues, David admits he was fine throughout the day but something switched that night. "The fact that I'm left-handed saved my life," he tells SPORTbible. "I started on the right side and stopped just before the vein. That wasn't through choice. It was just by chance."
Things have improved in recent times. He has not been in that much of a bad place since almost taking his own life in 2017, but those demons still follow him.
"I do still struggle badly at times, and I think that's not going to change for me. I'm always going to have good days and bad. Some worse than others. It's been a good 15 years that I've struggled with my mental health. I just didn't know how to deal with things at that time."
Even this week, David admits to having struggled with his mental health.
The Lanark-born forward, who made a total of six appearances for Albion Rovers this season, was on the substitutes bench when he walked off the pitch in the first half of their Scottish League Two tie against Stenhousemuir after an opposition player taunted him about his mental health.
"It was done and dusted within a minute," he says. 'Me and the boy had words. He was playing left-back, so it was close to the dugout. It started football-related but then got personal. The final comment was 'You should have done it right the first time.'
"It went from a football-related incident to a very personal comment he made to me. The boy has tried to deny it all. They were always going to do that but I'm not worried about it at all. He's trying to say he was abused for the entire half but it's 100 per cent that's not what happened."
This isn't the first time such an attack has happened on the field. It has happened on numerous occasions down the years.
In 2019, David says he considered suicide after being abused over issues surrounding his mental health while playing for the Scottish side Cowdenbeath.
After he was last taunted about his past on the pitch, he knew he had to take action.
"I've heard it that many times from players on the park but I promised myself that the next time it happens, I'm going to walk off the park or I'm going to end up doing something I regret.
"I also wanted to make a point. Because if I didn't, it was just going to keep on happening. It could have been the last straw for somebody. If that was someone who had just come out with a story - like I did the first time - and something like that a couple of weeks after, it could be too much.
"It could ultimately end in something terrible happening. I think that's where people don't understand. For example, if I decided to take that the wrong way, I could have said I'm done. And ended up ending my life. People would be saying 'we should have done this' or 'we should have done more' but they always say that when it's too late.
"I don't want people feeling sorry for me. I just want to make a point that it's not right to say these sorts of things and words do have implications. People can call me a snowflake. It's not like that at all. I get all the football banter, but some can't handle it when you get personal with stuff like that.
"The past week, I've felt crap for several reasons. People have been calling me a grass and I'm trying to ruin the boy's life. This isn't about that individual incident though. It's about everything else as well. It's happened to me a few times now and I've kept my mouth shut and nothing has been done about it."
In terms of his football career, David says he is done with it for now.
He is instead concentrating on making his voice heard while normalising the subject of mental health. "There are so many young people who are suffering from mental health issues," he says. "There needs to be more done for them to access help the way they can so easily with other things. There's not enough out there."
David Cox from @albionrovers after receiving abuse during a match regarding his struggles with mental health.
No one should be subject to this during a match pic.twitter.com/KnNizj46P1
- Stuart Mac (@ottleti) April 29, 2021
As we chat over a Zoom call, David opens up about his struggles and the scars he owns because of self-harming.
In total, one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, while one in six people report experiencing a common mental health problem (like anxiety and depression) in any given week, according to Mind.
At his lowest point, David would wake up with fear and dread while thinking about how he could "finish things quickly and painlessly."
"I used to wake up every morning and think about how I could kill myself," he says. "How could I do it without being too painful? How could I do it without making it so bad that if someone found me, it wasn't such a distressing sight? That was going through my head. I used to wake up and didn't want to be here for days, if not weeks at a time.
"I was so emotional and so angry. People say things to people who have mental health issues - like 'look at them, you could be worse' - but for that person to never experience what that person has experienced, and what they are dealing with at that time, it could be the worse they have ever felt.
"Everybody's lowest point is different from others. And people deal with it in different ways. It's hard to speak about mental health and pinpoint what it is. It can be so many different things. I think that it's hard to just put one thing on it and describe how it feels."
In addition to the above statistics, one in 14 people self-harm, and one in 15 people attempt suicide.
"That's the thing with depression. You do these things to make you feel better," he says. "It's like a release for a certain period. Now, it's a daily reminder of what you went through. I don't regret it because it's part of who I am. It's brought me to where I am today.
"I think of those who self-harm; people look at them and ask 'how can you do something like that and put yourself through that pain?' But it's different. You are hurting that bad that the harming is a release, which is not ideal but that's how people deal with things and that's how I dealt with it.
"It's just unfortunate that back then, I never really knew how to express my feelings. How to deal with it. Don't get me wrong, my scars are nothing compared to some people. I just wish others could find a way to deal with their issues other than self-harming.
"It doesn't make them a bad person, though. People shouldn't look at them and say look at the state of you. Everybody deals with things differently. There needs to be more awareness."
As we continue to talk about mental health and normalise the subject, the stigma is slowly disappearing, with more and more people seeking help.
The number of people with common mental health problems went up by 20% between 1993 to 2014 in both men and women, according to Mind, and the percentage of people reporting severe mental health symptoms in any given week rose from 7% in 1993 to over 9% in 2014.
David knows there's a "long, long way to go" but things will improve if we keep on talking about the subject.
"The more we talk about this kind of stuff, and make people aware because it could happen to anyone at any time through one situation or another. Sometimes that's all it takes for someone to take a step back and think, 'you know what, I shouldn't have said that.'
"If we don't speak about it, and keep shying away, the stigma is never going to go away.
"As much as talking about it a lot can bring me down, like the past week, I'm doing it for a reason. To help other people. It's not about me, not about getting attention. I still need to keep going and give people a voice so they can look at someone who has their worst place ever. I've lived it. I've tried to kill myself and it didn't work.
"So hopefully people can listen and give them some courage and open up and speak out. And the more we speak about it, the more people feel confident when they are getting down or anxious or worrying about things. It's fine to feel like that. Absolutely.
"It's just when you don't know how to deal with it when things get a bit too much; that you feel that you can't turn to someone because they'll say something like 'get a grip' - all the things that were said to me when I was growing up. It wasn't spoken about back then."
Despite an increase in those speaking out about mental health and getting help, the lack of awareness within football is still worrying.
The situation in Scottish football in particular has raised further concerns. In the lower leagues, players are often handed one-year contracts and, as a result, they can be shown the door after such a short period and may struggle to find work elsewhere.
"You see all the work they are doing with racism but for me, mental health is just as bad," David says. "And there are so many players who are coming out, speaking to the likes of mental health charities. I'm a patron for Back Onside and there have been so many players reach out.
"It shouldn't take these charities to be doing that work. It should be done within clubs.
"It's so difficult," he continues. "It's the same for young boys who are going through youth development. I can't speak right now for what is going on at most clubs, because I don't know, but for me, if things weren't good enough, you'd be shown the door and there isn't a follow-up.
"You haven't got any experience of life out of football. You are left and don't know what to do. Those dreams have been shattered. It happens to 90% of young boys at a higher level. There needs to be more done at that level. Boys can then take that advice later on in life. They need to be looked after more."
There have recently been calls for fresh measures to tackle hate and discrimination, with football clubs, players, athletes and several sporting bodies taking part in a four-day boycott of social media in an attempt to tackle the issue.
The effects of abuse, both on and off the pitch, are taking their toll on footballers. In November last year, A-League player Josh Hope quit professional football at the age of just 22 because of the crippling anxiety he suffered from relentless and debilitating online abuse.
Targeted abuse of players on social media, in particular, has sadly become normalised in modern-day society and the stark reality is, these issues only appear to be getting worse.
Cox knows exactly what it's like to be on the receiving end from fans as well as players.
"You turn up on a Saturday, you get the fans who come in, pay their money, abuse you, leave and that's the end of their day. They've felt better because they've got it out of their system. And go back to work on Monday and they feel fine. But it's us that need to deal with the in-between.
"You'd never get that in any other workplace. You wouldn't get somebody standing over you and shouting at you while you're working at the computer or start abusing your family and make remarks about you personally. They would be shown the door. That's where it's hard in football.
"I've been to so many games and you see the normal people come in who you look at them, and they just look like a day-to-day guy, but as soon as they sit their backsides in the seat and the game starts, the abuse that comes out of their mouth is disgusting.
"I went to a Motherwell vs Rangers game, just before the lockdown. I sat down and the stuff that was getting shouted at black players and I was sitting there thinking, it's people like you that make me not want to play football. It's crazy, It makes me hate football."
Away from the game and David is focusing on his love for fitness and the gym business he built six years ago.
"I need the gym," he says. "In this past week in lockdown, If I never had my place, I wouldn't like to think how I'd feel or where I'd be. For me, training is 100% the best form of antidepressant you'll get. People don't realise the benefits it has.
"The hardest part is getting up, getting out, and getting it done. I get such a buzz out of training and lifting weight, getting amongst everyone. They are a great group of people.
"The good thing about my gym is that I'm always a very open guy, so anyone who comes into my gym if they are struggling, they will reach out and speak out to me - and not be scared. That's the way it should be. There's no judgment.
"It's different to football - you don't need to pretend that you're alright. You don't have to perform well. Every time you play and train, you go there because it's medicine. I used to take tablets. I've been on three different kinds and I don't feel like they ever worked for. The best thing I can do is get up and smash a session at the gym.
"I would 100% recommend that to anyone over anything else. Give it a chance to work."
As we wrap up our chat, I ask David if he has any positive stories that have stuck with him after speaking out about his mental health struggles. It sums up the man.
"A few weeks ago, I was driving home from the gym," he says. "Where I stay, there was a boy who committed suicide so his family had set up seven benches all around North Lanarkshire.
"They are colourful, they are painted the colours of the rainbow. They were put there specifically for people who might be struggling and don't know how to ask for help or speak up. So I was driving home the other week and I was on the phone with my wife and I drove by one of the benches. There was a boy with his hood up.
"I was looking around about there were loads of people just walking by and it was going through my head, so I drove up to the roundabout and came back, parked my car at the side of the road, and walked over.
"He saw me coming over. I said, 'Is everything OK mate? You know what these benches are here for, don't you?' He stood up and apologised but I didn't mean it like that. I just wanted to let him know. He then opened up and said it was his uncle's friend who killed himself and that's why these were put up.
"The boy had been drinking as well. I sat down next to him and spoke a wee bit. He broke down in tears and admitted he had been struggling. He was just a young boy. I ended up having a good chat and offered to take him home.
"He didn't have a phone or wasn't on Facebook. I wanted to make sure he was alright, so I asked if he minded me taking him into the house so I could speak to his mum quickly. We sat down and had a chat. She said thanks so much for your help. I left my number and said if you need me for anything, just give me a shout.
"The next day, I got a nice message from his mum saying you've helped so much. Then I got a message from him.
"Just the other day, I was driving to pick up my little girl from my mum's house and I saw the boy walking. I stopped my van and he was saying, 'How are you doing, David? Nice to meet you again' - he was saying he was so much better, and he's getting some help from the doctor. And he wanted to come to my gym.
"It's good to know that me just stopping that night, and simply asking if he was alright, maybe gave him the help that he needed. I'm glad that I drove by that night. There were so many people just walking by.
"Hopefully he's managing to sort himself out now."
Featured Image Credit: Dave Johnston/Alba Pictures
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