Paralympic golden boy Josef Craig talks about struggles with depression and anxiety and reveals he tried to take his own life four times

Paralympic gold medalist Josef Craig has revealed the battle against depression and anxiety which led him to try to take his own life four times.

Thursday, 10th October 2019, 11:35 am
Paralympian Josef Craig at Sunderland University

Josef became one of the North East’s most celebrated athletes after he became Team GB’s youngest gold medal winner at the London 2012 games.

But speaking out on World Mental Health Day, the 22-year-old revealed how he spiraled into depression in the years that followed.

Now, as he prepares to receive an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Sunderland for his services to swimming, he says he hopes his story will help others suffering in silence.

Josef Craig with his Gold Medal

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Josef, from Jarrow, said: “I want people to know about this; I want them to know that they don’t need to feel wrong or ‘not like a man’ for having these feelings.

“We need to be much more open about depression and how it affects people, particularly young men.”

“My approach to begin with was to blame myself – I needed to be stronger, pull myself together and get on with things – but, of course, that’s not how it works.”

Josef says he made four separate attempts to end his life between the ages of 17 and 20.

Josef Craig celebrates winning Gold in the Men's 400m Freestyle

“I think I suffered from forms of depression and anxiety for many years, but the simple fact was that I didn’t know how to deal with it,” he said. “I was a man, and I’d always believed that men should be tough.”

Josef became a national hero when he won gold in the 400m freestyle. His success in the swimming pool saw the Royal Mail honour him with a golden postbox in his home town.He was jointly awarded the North East Sports Personality of the Year award then made Young Sports Personality of the year for 2012 at the BBC's main annual award.

The level of attention was a shock: “It felt great – I literally saw my name up in lights as I drove home along the dual carriageway,” he added. “I saw videos of my family in the pub, cheering me on as I won.

“But, afterwards, I felt like I had to conform and almost become what others wanted me to be. Suddenly, I couldn’t remember myself.”

In 2017 Josef took matters into his own hands and checked into The Priory in Altrincham where he was diagnosed with depression and Bipolar II.

He said: “I suppose I have always been an emotional person and seen myself as ‘different’; I tend to react to things in extreme ways – either really up or really down.”

Treatment has helped him learn to cope: “When things got really bad, I knew I had to ask for help, that was the first thing,” he said. “But, I knew I had to help myself too.

“I went back to being me, to doing the day-to-day stuff that would get me through; whether that was talking to my mates, playing a game of Fifa, or going to a party.

“All these things helped. They still do.”Josef also drew strength from parents Kim and Ken as well as the boxing heroes he grew up with.“I remember watching videos of Muhammad Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard when I was a kid. They were amazing to me, real heroes,” he added.“In more recent years, Tyson Fury, who I’ve got to meet twice, has been a great source of help. Seeing how he overcame his own struggles – both inside and outside the ring – really helped me dig deep, and know I, too, could come out the other side.”Josef would like to work in the boxing profession, perhaps on the promotional side, as well as dabble in property management.He said he felt ‘Lucky. Very lucky’, to receive his Honorary Fellowship and added: “I always believed hands-on experience was the best type of study you could do, but University teaches you incredible life skills which will serve you well in the years ahead – and that’s exciting.”