After his early career was blighted by injury, Hutchinson was forced to retire at the age of 21 while still on Chelsea’s books and, after a long battle with depression – which included a spell in the Priory - he has no trouble in describing what rock bottom looks like.
To mark Mental Health Awareness Week, the EFL and its official charity partner, Mind, have teamed up to speak to each of their 10 ‘On Your Side Champions’ about their experience of mental health. Sam Hutchinson joinied Charlie Webster in the latest episode of 'Inside the Mind of...' series.
“Sometimes I’d drive around in my car and if I saw a lorry coming the opposite way, I’d often think, ‘if I drove in front of it now, it would all be over and done with.’”
A shocking revelation from Sam Hutchinson that takes some digesting, but one that he openly speaks of if his words are to help others who may find themselves in a similar position.
A product of Chelsea’s youth system, Hutchinson was a promising right-back before a serious knee injury – which led to a period of depression - forced him to retire, aged just 21.
For a man whose career so nearly ended before it had even really started, at one stage Hutchinson was compared to John terry during his time at Chelsea, and was picked out as a future star for the Premier League club.
However, in 2010, he found himself retired from football and suffering profound mental health problems.
“My knee injury was bad, there’s no doubt about it, but my depression and my mindset were what made me give up football,” Hutchinson reveals.
“I’ve suffered with injuries my entire life, even when I was 11 years old and playing football, I remember having problems with my knees. If I’m being honest, knowing what I know now and looking back, my depression probably started when I was about 15.
"I didn’t come out of my bedroom, my parents had to drag me to training because I was injured at the time and I didn’t want to rehab, I just wanted to play football.
“I didn’t deal with any of the emotions I was feeling, I completely blocked everything out that I was struggling with until one day it became too much and I just retired."
"I felt I deserved success and all I ever wanted to do was play professional football. When I was 17, I was classed as an 'elite' player, I was playing in Chelsea's first team, I captained England for my age group but my body and mind couldn't cope with it, which is ultimately what made me retire.
“I had worked from the age of seven and every day of my life had been dedicated to me becoming a professional footballer," he continued.
"When that all got taken away from me at the age of 21 I didn’t know how to deal with it and things completely spiralled.”
For six months after retirement, Hutchinson was not in a good place.
“I didn’t speak to my mum and dad for almost two years,” he reveals. “I couldn’t.”
When asked to describe what depression feels like, his response is eye opening.
“It’s just like a black hole that swallows you up,” he reveals. “And you can’t get out of it. You’re trying but you can’t. It’s a lonely and horrible place and the deeper you get into it, the more lonely you feel. It’s the biggest contradiction I have ever faced, because what I needed, I didn’t want at the time and what I wanted I didn’t need. It’s horrible.”
After pushing everyone away except for his wife, Hutchinson finally sought help, realising that his mental health problems had been brewing long before his knee injury.
He took it upon himself to check into the Priory for professional treatment.
“My wife worked part-time at the time,” he continues. “She’d come home in the afternoon to find me on the sofa under a blanket watching Homes Under The Hammer. I had nothing else to do and I didn’t want to do anything else.
“Eventually I went to the Priory as an outpatient and saw one of the doctors there. I remember not sleeping for about six months, I was put on medication after feeling suicidal and it was just a really dark time for me.”
His work put in at the Priory was just as important, if not more important, as anything he had ever done with fitness coaches or physios previously.
“I went away and worked on my mind for a long time,” he says. “I saw a sports psychologist and eventually got to a place where my mind felt right.”
Eventually, it was former team-mate Ryan Bertrand that asked Hutchinson, “why don’t you just give it another go?” after seeing him one afternoon. And after giving it some thought, that’s exactly what he did.
It wasn’t the dream return to Chelsea he had hoped for, but after taking control of his career and making his own decisions that were right for him and his family, in 2014 he signed for Sheffield Wednesday and, whilst he still struggled with his mental health in the seasons that followed, knowing "how to deal with it", allowed him the success on the pitch he’d always wanted.
Despite experiencing ups and downs at Wednesday, he did soon establish himself as a key player and favourite among the fans, having now made over 150 appearances for the South Yorkshire club, a landmark he could not have envisaged during his dark days at Chelsea.
“I’m very aware of it now and I know how to deal with it,” he explains. “My depression used to come out in anger or arguments. I’d pick fights or be erratic on the pitch, I remember one season I got sent off five times.
“But now I’m aware of it, my coping mechanisms are a lot better. A huge thing for me is just speaking about it whenever I feel it. I never used to talk to anyone, but now I’ll speak to anyone just because it helps. That and exercise, exercise is something I have to do regularly to help with my mind.
“You can’t physically perform unless you are mentally okay. To perform well on the pitch or in any line of work, your mind needs to be right. It’s so important and I want people to know that it’s not a weakness speaking out about it either.”
Hutchinson’s path in professional football makes him different to everyone else, and despite his story being a tough one to tell, the now father of three is only happy to talk about his mental health issues.
Why? Because he doesn’t want anyone to go through what he did.
“I want to try and help people raise awareness about mental health as much as I can. Ever since I started speaking out about it in my early twenties, it’s made a difference to me. I look at my kids and I think, ‘how could I have ever left them?’
“It doesn’t matter how much detail you go into initially, even just saying to someone ‘I don’t feel right’ could end up saving a life. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t even matter who it is that you say it to. There is always someone to speak to and always hope. It may not always feel like it at the time, but there really is.
“Life can be hard, and sometimes it’s just that simple.”
The full video with Sam Hutchinson will be made available to watch on the EFL’s official YouTube channel, here and can be watched below after 10am.
For more information about Mind and mental health work, click here.