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Clive’s Story

Clive used to be one of the world’s best known and most respected Rugby Union referees, and recently became a Doctor of Philosophy. He’s also an NCMH Research Champion, helping to spread the word about our research. This is his story:


My name is Clive Norling. I am a former Welsh Rugby Union International referee, and between 1968 -1992 I officiated in over 1050 games, including 35 Test matches. I am 64 years old, and retired from full time employment.

During my working career I have held what many people would consider to be senior positions; as a Building Society manager, a Principal Lecturer in Business in Higher Education, and, my last post, as Director of Referees at the WRU in Cardiff.

The qualities required for the roles I held in my working life were very similar to those needed on the pitch as a referee – I had to be confident and assured, while cool, calm and positive in my decision-making. I was accustomed to the many demands placed on both the ‘man with the whistle’ and the working manager, and I had always coped in both roles without incurring any serious health problems.

Unfortunately, in my last post at the WRU, I encountered an extraordinary degree of work related pressure and stress, which was unlike anything that I had previously faced in my life. Eventually my physical and mental health deteriorated.

The warning signs became progressively worse, and as a man who has always believed that if “you can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen”, I decided to resign my position as Director of Referees, after five years in post. Sadly, the damage to my health during that period proved too great, and as a consequence I suffered a breakdown.

I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression. My illness resulted in my mind falling into a woeful ‘black hole’ full of hopelessness, despair and melancholy; my normal cheerful and optimistic attitude was changed to one of gloom and pessimism.

I became very withdrawn within myself, not wanting to either see or talk to anyone other than my partner, Mair. She was my rock, and without her I most certainly would not be writing this story.

My recovery was regrettably long, due to suffering several further incidents which affected my recuperation from the mental illness; my psychiatrist called it a ‘domino effect’. As I was moving forward, slowly becoming more positive in outlook, something would unexpectedly happen to knock me backwards into that awful ‘black hole’.

However, with the help of medication, expert mental health professionals and the support of friends who had themselves suffered with depression, I made a full recovery from the illness. On returning to a more positive state of mind, I was determined to resume the PhD research that I had been undertaking before my breakdown. I completed my part-time study and graduated from Cardiff University with a Doctor of Philosophy degree in 2014.

I found out about the National Centre for Mental Health whilst at the University, and offered to take part in their study on mental illness. The NCMH researcher visited Mair and I at home; me as the patient, and Mair as the carer.

As someone who had ‘walked the walk’ with a mental illness, I was pleased to be able to contribute to the research by describing all aspects of my experience. I had always been open about my illness, and I had never thought of it as a ‘stigma’ to be ashamed to talk about.

Mair has subsequently set up a carers group in Swansea for those people helping to look after family members or friends with mental illness, and I have often talked to medical professionals about my confrontation with the ‘black hole’.

So I would encourage fellow depression sufferers to contact NCMH and talk openly to the researchers about their personal ‘walking the walk’. Their first-hand knowledge will aid a greater understanding of an illness that can, like catching a cold, afflict any individual.


National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University, Hadyn Ellis Building, Maindy Road, Cardiff, CF24 4HQ

+44 (0)29 2068 8401
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