Rugby ace: ‘Asking for help is not a weakness’

Danny Sculthorpe, former Wigan Warriors Rugby League player, talks about his life and battle with depression
Danny Sculthorpe, former Wigan Warriors Rugby League player, talks about his life and battle with depression

Billinge-based rugby league ace and brother of Saints legend Paul, Danny Sculthorpe has told how attempted to end his own life with a bottle of gin and enough pills to “kill half of Wigan.

“I was so close to doing it,” admits Danny, now 37. “If I had gone through with it, it certainly would not have been a halfhearted attempt as I had so many pills and was determined to do it.

Danny Sculthorpe

(from left to right, his daughter Isla, his wife Natalie, Danny, his son Louie and daughter Ellie.)

Danny Sculthorpe (from left to right, his daughter Isla, his wife Natalie, Danny, his son Louie and daughter Ellie.)

“But at the last second, something stopped me. Whether it was the thought of leaving my kids, my wife, my parents and my brothers and the devastation I would leave behind I don’t know.

“I remember going home from the car park and feeling really disappointed in myself for not going through with it.

“The plan had not come to fruition and I went back to that feeling of uselessness and not knowing what was going to happen in the future.”

Danny, who lives in Billinge, and is married to Natalie with children Ellie, 10, Louie, eight and Isla, three, contemplated suicide after an injury brought his rugby league career to a premature end in 2010.

Paul and Danny Sculthorpe

Paul and Danny Sculthorpe

The former prop played for Wigan Warriors, Rochdale Hornets, represented Lancashire and was capped eight times for England as well as being captain on the England tour to South Africa.

Danny, who played just short of 300 matches in his career also played in the 2004 Challenge Cup final for Wigan against St Helens and had stints at Castleford Tigers, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Huddersfield Giants.

Danny, who is the younger brother of former player Paul Sculthorpe who was a legend at St Helens, began playing rugby league at the age of six and says the sport was his whole life and all he had ever known.

So when it all came to an abrupt end after an injury, Danny confesses to feeling “lost and helpless” and he spiralled into depression which culminated in his near-suicide attempt.

Danny  with wife Natalie, son Louie and daughters Isla and Ellie, right

Danny with wife Natalie, son Louie and daughters Isla and Ellie, right

It all unfolded after Danny signed a four-year deal for Bradford Bulls in 2010 - but didn’t actually end up making a single appearance for them.

Danny recalls: “I signed in the October and was straight into pre-season training.

“The injury happened in the third week of pre-season. I was in the gym squatting when I prolapsed a disc in my spine.

“I remember feeling a sharp pain in my back. But that went away and then it went sciatic down my right leg.”

Danny Sculthorpe and brother Paul

Danny Sculthorpe and brother Paul

Danny tried to train the following day but couldn’t and had numerous scans and epidurals.

Danny ended up having surgery and had the disc shaved which released the sciatic nerve and his pain disappeared.

However, about a week after the operation, Danny began experiencing really bad pains in his back.

Danny says: “I knew something wasn’t right as I didn’t have back pain before they shaved the disc. It was all sciatic.”

Danny returned to hospital and had an emergency MRI scan which revealed he had picked up an MRSA infection and had septicaemia in the bottom of his spine.

Danny explains: “I am a type one insulin dependent diabetic and one of the risks of surgery is that you pick up infections quite easily.”

Danny Sculthorpe on the charge

Danny Sculthorpe on the charge

Danny was in unbearable pain and was in intensive care and in the high dependancy unit and spent three months in hospital because of all the damage the infection had caused.

Surgeons removed a disc and a big piece of spine as they were so badly infected and ended up fusing Danny’s spine with metal caging, rods and screws.

Danny recalls: “It was horrendous. I can’t describe the pain I was in. It was awful.”

When Danny eventually left hospital after three months, his world completely changed and from being fit and physically active, he was confined to his sofa.

Danny says: “I would get out of bed, go and sit on my couch all day and then at night, go back to bed again.

“It was all I could do. I couldn’t do anything with my children. I couldn’t even go to the toilet and had to use bottles.”

Danny’s life was then thrown into utter turmoil when he discovered Bradford Bulls were ripping up his contract.

Danny remembers: “I got a phone call from my agent telling me that instead of Bradford Bulls paying my medical bills, putting me through physiotherapy and ensuring I had quality of life, they had decided to tear up my contract.”

Danny went from earning a decent wage as a rugby league player to nothing.

The family were living in Orrell at the time but after about six or seven months, they had to give up their home as they could not carry on with the mortgage repayments.

It was at this point when Danny first remembers being plagued with suicidal thoughts.

He explains: “Rugby league was all I had ever done from being at school. It was my life.

“Suddenly, I lost my job, my career and eventually we lost our family home.

“When I finally admitted we could not carry on with the mortgage repayments and would have to give up the house, that’s when I remember the thought of suicide first entering my head.

“Once it was there, I couldn’t get it out of my head.

“Every single moment of every single day, I was thinking about committing suicide and thinking about ways to do it such as taking pills, wrapping my car around a tree or driving into a bridge.

“The thoughts would not leave me. It was all caused by a feeling that I could not support or provide for my family and my children.

“While I was going through this, I did what most blokes do and bottled it up and kept it to myself.

“I did not even tell my wife. She knew I was in a bad place but I hid the suicidal thoughts from her.

“As a rugby player, I was always taught to never show weakness as your opponents will exploit it.

“The problem was I took this attitude into everyday life and thought it was a sign of weakness if I admitted how I was feeling or asked for help.”

Danny’s feelings escalated until he came close to committing suicide in a Wigan car park.

After he stopped himself at the last moment, he returned to going back to sitting on the sofa.

However, a few days later, his wife and his parents sat him down and told him they had noticed a huge change in his personality and asked what was going on.

Danny explains: “I wasn’t talking to my wife and was snapping at the kids and was a totally different person and they had noticed.

“I finally opened up and I told them about the suicidal thoughts - although I didn’t tell them how close I had come to actually going through with it.

“We spent hours crying and talking.

“It was the best thing I had done. It was an unbelievable feeling and felt like a massive weight had been lifted.

“I then went to see my doctor and was put on anti-depressants which really helped.

“But the biggest thing that saved my life was talking.

“I talked to a counsellor - this was organised by the rugby league and I went to the Sporting Chance clinic which was set up by former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams.

“That gave me a massive lift. Talking saved my life.”

Danny now works with mental health organisations and goes to different organisations such as sports clubs, schools, universities, police forces and fire services to share his story.

Danny explains: “There are a lot of Alpha Male men who wrongly think it is a weakness to share how they are feeling.

“I want to tell men it is not a weakness asking for help.

“If you admit you have got a problem, it is actually more of a strength.”

Danny wants to be a counsellor and has just finished his autobiography called: “Highs, lows and hypos” which will be out in November.

It deals with issues such as rugby league, his battle with depression and diabetes.

Danny says: “I was diagnosed with type one diabetes at the age of 15.

“I dislocated my knee and the doctors think the shock of that brought the diabetes on.

“A lot of people think they can’t do physical sport when you have type one diabetes but that is rubbish. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

Five years after the injury, Danny was awarded a five figure compensation fee. The claim was lodged against the club’s former holding company Bradford Bulls Holdings Ltd which is now dissolved.

Danny says: “I sued them and it took five years and they settled out of court.

“It wasn’t for the money. I did it to get them to admit what they did was wrong.

“I hate Bradford for what they put me and my family through, but I also thank them for giving me a new purpose in life.

“I really want to raise awareness about mental health and the importance of men talking.

“The statistics are frightening. Every day, 13 men take their own life - that’s a full rugby league team.

“Out of all the suicides in the UK, 78 per cent are men. That’s because women feel more comfortable talking about their feelings while men don’t.

“Depression, anxiety and stress are not killers - it is the stigma attached to them. I am trying to break the stigma.

“I now feel completely better and am happier than I have ever been - even more than when I was representing my country.

“Depression is an illness and it can be fixed.”