Exclusive: Ex-Leigh Centurions star Jamie Acton in shocking revelation of drug and alcohol abuse, feeling suicidal, and nine-game ban ‘self-hatred’

Rugby league and mental health are two things that are being spoken about a lot more in the same conversation.

And, for good reason; the likes of Stevie Ward have documented their trials and tribulations in relation to life without the sport with more stars opening up about the dangers of being isolated during and after their careers.

For one more former Leigh Centurions star, rugby league had always been his escape from a number of mental health problems.

But, for Jamie Acton, who played 95 games for Leigh between 2014 and 2018, those problems were sometimes made worse by actions on the field.

“I had a couple of years at Wigan and left to go to Workington and then I moved back down to Leigh and broke my neck two years ago,” Acton told Serious About Rugby League.

“It was a horrific time and it inspired me to go on a bit of a journey.

“I went through quite a severe depression and felt suicidal at times, but through my support network, my wife and friends, I was able to find my feet a bit.

“I’ve now created a good balance to potentially help other young men with a lack of purpose and identity.”

Acton believes that more needs to be done within the sport to provide a greater support network to those on the outside.

“You get taught how to pass a ball but you don’t get taught how to deal with the psychological impact of not being a player anymore, how to deal with the highs and lows and fans sending you death threats on Facebook.

“How fans love you one minute and then hate you the next minute, you either deal with it and crack on or fall to the wayside.

“My ambition and aim is to utilise my experiences as a rugby player and someone who’s gone through severe depression to help others talk about their problems and be a catalyst to open up their experiences.”

The 29-year-old former prop forward spoke honestly about the troubles he has faced from a young age.

“I really enjoyed playing Super League with Leigh – it was great fun, but since I was young I’ve suffered with anxiety and ADHD and I’m also on the autistic spectrum.

“During my rugby career I completely brushed all that under the carpet, I ignored the problems and to try and combat them I used rugby as a vehicle to eliminate my demons.

“Because I didn’t feel I was able to communicate my emotions in the environment at Leigh, a lot of these emotions seemed to come out in games.

“I played rugby on a knife edge for the most of my career, I played with anger and aggression out of self-hatred and to get out of my mind.”

That aggression spilled over in one particular game Acton played back in 2017.

“The difficulty with that is it can work well 50% of the time but if someone pushes you, you lose control and I ended up getting multiple bans and then a nine-game ban with the Greg Bird incident.

“Bird had shoulder charged Ben Reynolds and I felt this superior loyalty to Ben, but I didn’t realise until after the game that Bird was knocked out and I picked him up off the floor – I felt ashamed but it was too late.

“The problem with the ban is that it leads to further shame and self-hatred and further creates energy and fire for mental health problems.

“I had a young family at home and wasn’t on that much money, but I would turn to drugs and alcohol to try and deal with all these problems.

“Rugby league takes responsibility for handing out punishments but they do not offer support after.”

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