Stephen Bunting has opened up on his mental health issues and revealed how working with a hypnotist has helped turn his career around.
The 38-year-old won his first televised PDC title on Sunday in the Masters, beating Michael van Gerwen 11-7 in the final in Milton Keynes. Bunting’s previous biggest career title came in 2014, when he won the BDO world championship.
Bunting made the switch to the PDC circuit soon after that success and initially threatened to make waves on the more high-profile tour. But a dip in form and confidence left him depressed and considering whether to walk away from darts.
The Liverpudlian said he felt like a laughing stock and turned to a hypnotist and sports psychologist to get over his demons. “I was ready for walking away,” he said. “It was awful, I was walking into events and I felt like everyone was laughing at me.”
“I felt like no matter what I was doing everything was going wrong. I was taking it out on my family and locking myself away,” he added. “I was depressed, it was an awful place to be.
“Thankfully the psychologist and hypnotist over the last few years have helped. I was against it at first but I thought I needed to do something, [so] I went. He taught me how to think not just about darts, there’s other things than darts, your family, your home life.”
“I know they say in Peter Pan you think about happy stuff and you can fly but it is the same sort of logic in darts,” Bunting added. “If you turn up and are feeling happy and good then you can win anything.”
Bunting reached the PDC world semi-finals in 2021 and quarter-finals in 2023, and went out in the fourth round this year against Van Gerwen. The world No 16 took revenge on Sunday, winning with a 102.50 average after beating the world champion, Luke Humphries 10-7 and then trouncing Peter Wright 10-2 and Nathan Aspinall 11-1 to reach the final.
“The hypnotist helped me with my sleep,” Bunting explained after his victory. “That’s the biggest thing for me, a one-hour session with a hypnotist is [like] a four-hour REM state [of sleep] so it helps you to focus, it helps you look at all the positives and stop looking at the negatives.
“Your mind is 95% negative so sometimes every one of us will be in the negative side of the brain without even knowing it. I don’t think there are many players who have dipped into that side so to have that extra 1 or 2% helps. As you can see I am a champion now, so I’m just happy.”
Bunting has been waiting a long time to get his hands on a trophy, but said he would give it back if it meant Jürgen Klopp would stay at his beloved Liverpool. “I might give my trophy, but I wouldn’t give my title back,” he quipped.
“I actually felt like I lost a family member. I was away in Ireland when I heard the news and I was absolutely devastated,” Bunting added. “I don’t think there is a manager in the world that could take his place.
“I am going to go to the cup final, I have got a ticket for the last game of the season, so I will be able to pay my respects and see him off. It is emotional for any Liverpool fan.”