I like spring. I love the light and the slightly increased possibility that it may not be cold. Indeed as I’m writing this it is warm outside, the sky is blue and all the young people appear to have thrown away their socks and reached for the flip-flops.
Of course by the time you’re reading this it may well be snowing, you won’t be able to buy socks anywhere and the double hazard that is the flip-flop - very cold and no grip in icy conditions - will cause mayhem among the fashionista youth. However, for now, forgive me for noticing that people tend to welcome the light and warmth that comes with the shift in seasons with the same heady mix of relief, joy and hope normally seen in the big dance number on Glee.
If you’re anything like me you’ll see that people lift their heads more and their shoulders are less hunched. Moods lift. Either this is because we’re now in April
or it’s because most of us have finally managed to pay for last Christmas and are thus simply relieved.
Recently England cricketer Michael Yardy, had to come home from the Cricket World Cup early because he was suffering from depression. Although that struck me as notably honest I didn’t immediately think he was brave for telling the truth. But then I read some of the comments of former cricketer and BBC commentator Geoff Boycott: “He must have been reading my comments about his bowling… Obviously it was too much for him at this level.” This crassness illustrated just how hard it is to acknowledge any kind of mental ill health in the world of sport, and one wonders, maybe even beyond.
At our core we retain a strange attitude to mental illness. Depression is perceived by many as being some kind of weakness, it is linked to our character, it makes us “lesser” in some way. Earlier in the World Cup when players had to come home because they had hurt an ankle it was greeted as bad luck rather than a lack of leg fortitude or a sign of moral fragility.
Perhaps the problem is that too many people mistake depression for the mid-winter misery we can feel when it’s dark and icy and we have a cold sore and feel a bit too fat to have that second croissant we really fancy. And perhaps also there is a sense of “well, if I have to cope with my misery and the lack of croissant, so should you”. In essence, perhaps we don’t know what we are supposed to be empathising with and thus trivialise something that is profound but can’t be shared.
In reality, depression is the absence of hope, a treacle on the soul that is so debilitating people can struggle to remember to breathe. Carrying it is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, living with it is a sign of strength. Mr Yardy showed courage in his honesty but the truth is, isn’t it sad that being honest required courage?
Perhaps the unreconstructed world of sport is an exception. Perhaps empathy or understanding from sportsmen and women is harder to come by because the rules and the culture are often simple and brutalising. But I do wonder, even in these enlightened times, if we are all free of the discomfort and discrimination around mental ill health?
Are we less judgemental of a colleague who calls in sick with a bad back or swine flu than one calling in with depression? Or if any of us found ourselves depressed, I wonder if we may find it easier - even as nurses, doctors or other health professionals - to phone in and say that we had hurt a leg or an arm rather than ourselves?