The sun peeking through the curtain of his hotel room offered a view outside of Mexico in all its glory

The golden, sandy beaches were 
waiting as part of what should have been the holiday of a lifetime.

But James Keatings wasn’t interested.

Because, at that point in his life, no amount of light was going to pierce through the dark cloud that was slowly engulfing him.

He didn’t know it last June when he set off with then girlfriend Debbie.

James Keatings has had to deal with injuries on the pitch and problems off it.

But the hugely talented Dundee United footballer was in the first throes of depression.

Keatings should have been bouncing out of his bed every morning.

Instead, he was struggling to get his head off the pillow.

Yet incredibly, that dark feeling he had in Mexico was only the start of the physical and mental torture he was about to face.

As a professional, the 26-year-old 
has endured a nightmare campaign with injuries.

But the pain he suffered in his ankle and hip is nothing compared to an 
illness that has gripped his whole life.

As well as depression, the loss of his grandad William hit him hard – as did the break-up with Debbie.

Then, when he thought things couldn’t get any worse, he was forced to board a flight to Tenerife to be at dad James’ bedside after he had been mowed down by a hit-and-run driver.

Until now, Keatings has only 
spoken to those closest to him about his problems.

Seeking out help from his family, agent Alan Houldsworth and the Tannadice club were the first steps on the striker’s road to recovery.

Even at the start of MailSport’s 
conversation with the striker, he was reluctant to open up.

But the need to unburden himself of negative thoughts – as well as a 
determination to help others who are silently suffering – made up his mind.

From the outside, most players look to have the perfect life without a care in the world.

But, as Keatings proves, in reality it can be a very different story.

He said: “I’ve been suffering from depression but not a lot of people are aware of it.

“I was on holiday in Mexico last 
summer and my girlfriend was the first person to notice signs of it.

“She immediately wanted to get me help. I’d spend most days locked away in my room. I didn’t want to get up.

“I had no life, basically. I couldn’t pull myself out of it. But I didn’t want to admit to depression – I couldn’t see it in myself.

Keatings signed for Dundee United last summer

“I didn’t believe something like that could get a grip of me. But I couldn’t shake it.

“It was new to me. I couldn’t 
understand it, couldn’t see through it.

“The first person I went to was Alan, my agent. I came off the pitch one day and broke down in front of him.

“He got me help and has been 
amazing. Everyone at Dundee United, including my former manager Ray McKinnon, Laurie Ellis, Darren Taylor, as well as the doctor and physio, has been brilliant.

“I also confided in Jason Cummings, who has been there for me as well.

“It’s still hard to talk about.

“For a few months, being injured was actually a blessing in disguise. Because it gave me time away.

“The way I was feeling, it was better to be out of it, away from football.

“At one point, playing was the last thing on my mind. I was in a dark place and didn’t know where to turn.

“It was difficult to tell my family. I didn’t want to put them through it. I’ve learnt more about the illness and sought my own help in Glasgow as well. I’ve had to train myself to deal with it.

Keatings has confided in his pal Jason Cummings

“Every day, I don’t know how I’ll be when I wake up.

“But initially I couldn’t get myself out of the darkness. Now I can. I’m getting better gradually.

“It’s hard for me right now. As I’m talking, I find myself sweating because I haven’t opened up in 
public before.”

Keatings’ bravery is to be admired, especially in the macho world of sport.

His former gaffer at Hibs, Neil Lennon, is just one of several 
sports stars who have spoke 
candidly about their battles with depression.

Away from the pitch, Keatings found himself in a rut. And the death of his Papa, William, was a huge blow.

He said: “I lost him a couple of months ago and it was a hard one to take. He’d followed my career from when I was a young boy, 
coming to every game until his age stopped him.

“That was a tough time for me.

“Until this season, my career and life have been pretty rosy.

“But fans and people on the 
outside just see you as a player, 
they don’t see what goes on in 
the background.

“This season has opened my eyes. People think we’re robots but we’re not – we’re just human beings, the same as everyone else.

“We go through the same problems as other people. I never expected to face what I’ve faced this season.

“Everything has come at once and it has taken its toll. I was reading people’s comments about me and letting it have a negative effect.

“Normally that wouldn’t get to me but niggly things were upsetting me.

“It pushed me to the point of having no confidence.

“I had stopped believing in myself for the first time. I was questioning myself going on a pitch.

“That was just the process I was going through at the time. But I’m now focused on getting out at the other end.

“In seasons before I’ve always had spells of success that give you a lift. But this season, from the very start, I’ve been suffering. I didn’t know I was going through it.

“I had the injuries, I wasn’t playing, my grandad passing away. Everything got on top of me.

Former boss Ray McKinnon was a big support 

“But I’m away now from the dark 
place where I’d give up easily and have no hunger.

“I see it more as a challenge in life now. I’ve been set a challenge and it’s a case of can I beat it?

“At one point, I was waking up and I couldn’t give a s**t. I’ve came on leaps and bounds and I have to keep going.”

Keatings has set his sights on a fresh start at Dundee United next term and expects to be fit again for pre-season.

But last week, despite seeing light at the end of the tunnel, he was dealt more bad news.

His father was on holiday in 
Tenerife when a Peruvian driver left him for dead in the street before 
driving away.

Keatings feared for his dad’s life and jumped on a plane to the Canary Islands.

Thankfully, James pulled through and returned to Scotland on Friday nursing several injuries.

His boy said: “That was the worst feeling I’ve had in my life.

“I woke up to 50 missed calls. When I rang my stepmum Karen back she told me Dad had been the victim of a hit and run.

“He was in hospital but she didn’t know how bad he was.

“He was in a neck brace and she couldn’t see his face for blood.

“There was a lack of information because of the language barrier and the first thought I had wasn’t nice.

“Alan was brilliant for me again, he booked a flight and took me to the airport.

“I just had to get out there. It was worrying because I didn’t know what I was getting off the plane to. I sat on the flight fearing the worst.

“But when I got to see him, it was just sheer relief. That feeling of sickness went away. He’s in a bit of a state but better than I thought he’d be.

“He has broken his ribs, has stitches in his head and is covered from head to toe in injuries. The doctors told him he’s fortunate to be alive and it’s a week I’ll never forget.”

The truth is, it’s a season Keatings will never forget – but all for the 
wrong reasons.