Depression. Severe, typically prolonged, feelings of despondency and dejection.
Sport. A medium that can bring people together like no other. A means of enjoyment, entertainment and ability that can capture the imagination of people like nothing else.
Surely, people say, if you are highly involved in something as important and life-changing as sport, how can you even be considered as suffering from depression? Surely bringing joy to millions through the intricacies of sport would give someone so much pride and pleasure that they should never feel so bad as to be depressed. This is a view of naivety, and of jealousy, and of narrow-mindedness.
I understand that people would give anything to be in the position of professional sportsmen. In fact, I’d give anything to be in that position. But if that dream isn’t realised people feel the need to take it out on the people who are, by criticising them. I get this, but when somebody is diagnosed with depression and is unable to carry on their life in the same mental state, then people should think about them. They should rally round these people to help them out, not jump on a band-wagon that says ‘you are in a position millions want to be in, how can you be depressed, how can you feel like you can’t carry on. Pull yourself together.’
I’m going to tell you why these people need help, and I’m going to show you why they have struggled and what society can do to offer that support.
Let’s take the case of England cricketer Jonathan Trott, the latest big name British sportsman to be diagnosed with depression and hounded by many for it. Here is a man who was crucial to English cricket success over recent years, and who had high hopes for this winter's Ashes tour to Australia.
But after one game of the series, it was announced that he would return to England due to ‘a long standing stress related illness’ (ECB).
Trott had been found out in the first Test by the pace of Mitchell Johnson, an Aussie bowler who propelled the ball to the other end at 90+miles per hour, thus leading people to complain that Trott was just scared of the ball and needed to man up. This naive and pretty thoughtless idea is so far from the truth it’s worrying.
International cricketers spend 75-80 per cent of their year away from their homes, even when playing at home they have to suffer hotels and training camps rather than TV dinners and their own beds. When you spend this much time away from home, it can be difficult to cope with the pressures that International competition brings. And it brings a lot of them.
The weight of a nation's expectations on your shoulders, that has got to be tough to stomach. And, if you’re struggling, whose shoulder can you cry on? Yes, that’s right, the team psychologist. Not your family or your friends or the people who mean the most to you, just a bloke who is being paid to assess your mind, so what’s it going to look like when you let all your feelings out to him? You are going to look like you can’t cope, and that’s the hardest thing for someone with depression to say. ‘I can’t cope’.
But when it’s out there, and admitted, help will come forward. Help that needs to be more prevalent in society from now on, in sporting terms this means making schedules easier so athletes can lead their own lives more easily, in society it means not being critical, being supportive.
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