Aberdeen FC Women’s Amy Strath has opened up on “horrible” mental health struggles in the hope she can help others.
The centre-back, 25, has detailed her battle with depression and anxiety to the Evening Express and Press and Journal during Mental Health Awareness Week.
North-east native Strath – who studied and played in America for six years, before an isolating spell as a professional with Icelandic side Fylkir – signed for the Dons at the start of 2020.
She attributes the breakdown she suffered not long after her return to Granite City to the changes in her life and uncertainty over her future, as well as other stresses and strains – including dad Alex taking seriously ill with heart problems.
Strath said: “My ups and down with mental health started to come to light at the end of 2019-early 2020.
“I started to realise my thought processes and emotions were changing quite quickly – this is before the first Covid lockdown started.
“We (Aberdeen Women) were still in training, I had a job. This is when I’d come back from Iceland, having been away from home for a very long time in America and stuff like that.
“I was adjusting to being back home and everything had changed in six years – friends, family and everybody had moved on to their next chapter.
“It was a bit of a transition and I had to change a lot of things in my life. It was probably the end of February 2020 when I had a breakdown.”
The Dons player was diagnosed with depression and anxiety by her doctor.
Strath revealed she began missing training and, although she was honest about her struggles with Reds Women co-bosses Emma Hunter and Stuart Bathgate, she told her team-mates work commitments were to blame.
In reality, Strath had stopped exercising and describes waking up feeling numb. She said she was “not leaving my room, not wanting to get in contact with anybody” and “putting on a smile” if she did happen to bump into someone she knew.
The defender admits she struggled to understand her feelings, which developed despite a dream few years living and breathing football, and her “great support system” of family and friends. Strath said her mental state was such she felt “so alone” even when “in a pub surrounded by friends at Christmas time” in 2019.
It has been an ongoing “long journey” towards recovery for the 25-year-old.
Strath started taking medication for her mental health problems and also started mapping out her day in a planner, checking off little achivements, like “wake up and have a cold shower, have a coffee and walk my dog”.
She also returned to exercising regularly – although she avoided allowing exercise to become a “coping mechanism”, something Strath says had previously seen her training three times a day to try to deal with her feelings.
Something Strath is keen to emphasise was the importance of talking. It formed a key part of her recovery strategy.
She said: “I also made sure I texted two people within each day starting a conversation, or a phone call, that’s how one of the girls in the team, Anna (Blanchard), knew from the very start.
“I told her everything and she’d tell me to send her a voice message on Whatsapp, with how I was feeling and how my day was, then she’d reply. Sometimes that was all I needed, just to talk to somebody. I didn’t have to tell them everything, but it was just starting that conversation.
“The worst part was starting to go out in public when lockdown started to lift and meeting people. I remember I was just at the local pub with my mum and dad and there was maybe four people in there. I started to shake, sweat, my heart was pumping and the anxiety started coming that everyone was looking at me. I didn’t know where to look or how to act.
“I had to push myself into those situations through small steps, and I continued to work throughout it with small shifts, four or five hours, at a Spar in Torry. That got me out the house, dealing with customers and out of my comfort zone a little bit.
“But it (the way back) wasn’t easy. I woke up some days and really wasn’t in a good place, but if I just stayed in my room and didn’t push myself through it, I wouldn’t have been able to get back to where I am now.”
Strath was able to return to action ahead of the SWPL2 campaign and is looking forward to the resumption of Aberdeen Women’s season on June 6. She has been off her medication for six months and is now at the stage where she is able to veer away from what’s written on her planner for the day.
Away from her Dons commitments, but still in football, she is coaching kids with a company called PlayitLoveit, while she is also close to completing a qualification in personal training.
All of Strath’s Reds team-mates have known about her struggles since the players returned from the first Covid lockdown, and she says she’s “felt the support” through calming words on the training pitch and in games, or through messages sent at other times.
She also praised bosses Hunter and Bathgate, saying she is “very thankful” for messages and phonecalls checking in on her.
The stopper hopes by making her story public, others who are feeling low or anxious will be able to “start a conversation” which can help them recover.
Although being honest she still has “bad days or bad weeks where I have to vocalise or talk to people about it.”, Strath said: “There’s no easy way though this or direct plan – there are steps you can take and I think the main one is a conversation.
“If somebody has depresssion, my depression and their depression are going to be different, so there’s going to be different ways to go about things.
“I just hope this shows don’t be scared, because I was terrified and denied it for a long time, and I wish I didn’t, but I didn’t really have that other person who had been through it to talk to me.
“It is ok not to be ok. You’re not going to be ok all the time.
“If the girls in my team are feeling like this, I hope they know they can reach out and talk to any one of us and start a conversation.
“I’ve always said I’m there. Even though I’m still going through something doesn’t mean I can’t support someone else.
“I want to try to bring as much awareness to this as possible, because I know it’s a scary thing and it took me a long time to decide I wanted to, but the thought of helping just one person will make it worth it.”
Target to ‘win eight games and get promoted’
Amy Strath is targeting eight wins from Aberdeen Women’s remaining eight Scottish Women’s Premier League 2 games.
The SWPL2 restarts on June 6, with the Dons hosting Stirling University.
Emma Hunter’s team, who can finally resume contact training on Monday, are currently seven points clear at the top of the table.
Strath said: “I’m ready for contact, because non-contact training is really hard.
“It’s been six to eight weeks now, so it’s been quite a while. Emma has tried to do the best she can with the drills, but there’s only so many non-contact drills you can do.
“When we get back to contact it will completely change training and the intensity will go up completely.
“It’s really good we’ve got more home games – that’ll be in our favour, 100%.
“I want to win eight games, get promoted and get ready for next season.”