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OPINION

'Admitting to suffering from depression is just not cricket’

  • 15 Comments

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?

  • 15 Comments

Readers' comments (15)

  • I was signed off with depression and diagnosed with PTSD and on my return it was stressed to me how much stress I had put my colleagues under by being selfish and being off sick...needless to say I was off again within 48hours. I now attend but still get snide comments every so often from management. However that is their ignorance however I wish the PTSD would leave me then the black dog would be easier to control.

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  • An excellent article highlighting even today we still have discrimination that needs to be addressed. I often wonder if feeling weak when struggling with depression is an inherent part of that illness or because of the stigma from society. Perhaps, a little of both. This subject requires further discussion.

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  • You're absolutely right, Mark. In fact cricket particularly has a poor record in terms of mental health when you realise that ten years ago the suicide rate was double the normal population's - http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2001/apr/22/sport.ameliahill. I'm not convinced that anything has improved since then.
    PS always best not to listen to Boycott.

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  • Nick: I thought that perhaps Trescothick's experience had helped enlighten the cricket community? Clearly that only spread so far.
    Could you imagine a high profile
    footballer missing games because of depression? It would not compute I don't think, people would insist they didn't have the 'right' to depressed feelings.
    Perhaps that would actually provoke a healthy public debate?

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  • @Anonymous | 7-Apr-2011 1:58 pm

    thanks for the comment. Sebastian Diesler's suicide, Neil Lennon's documented depression and both Beckham's and Gazza's OCD suggest that football is not immune as you suggest. Here's a link:

    http://fourfourtwo.com/blogs/championsleague/archive/2008/02/04/the-struggle-for-sanity-football-depression-and-ocd.aspx

    I am sure there will be more but sport will continue to sweep it under the carpet. Certainly fans and the general public don't want to know - "you're paid how much?" - because footballers are 'living the dream'.

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  • Sorry I meant Robert Enke not Sebastian Diesler - oops

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  • Rather say you have cancer than admit depression? This footballer did -

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/staffordshire/3206278.stm

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  • Interesting stuff and good points about Gazza and Enke to my shame I had not thought about the former although of course the sporting demise was linked to 'alcohol' which dare I suggest is somehow more acceptable/expected in that culture than OCD or depression?

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  • Excellent article Mark, i have unfortunately been a sufferer of depression and id rather ring in work to say id been in a road accident,than ring in with the real reason.I even asked the DR to write something else on my certificate.
    Why? because despite the fact that we are good at helping patients,some people can not accept that nurses may suffer too!!!!!! Apart from one or two very supportive colleages,i am viewed by many as "weak" " non coper" "skiver" "let team down" "unreliable".
    I do not want to feel like this,it truely is debilitating, i dont want to have gushing symapthy either,just understanding that for some reason my brain doesnt put out the right chemicals sometimes,just as a diabetic doesnt have control over their own bodies sugar levels.
    You're not frightened to talk to a colleage who is diabetic for example,but you're afraid to talk to me,worried i might do something embarrasing or will my head spin wildly!!!!!!
    Understanding this should be across the board,not put into a patient only box,yes im a nurse but im a person too.

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  • Scott Miller and Cheryl Munder
    Am I correct in thinking that your sick notes state what condition you are exactly off sick for?
    If that is so, I am horrified that your rights to privacy are being exploited,and whatever you are off sick with aired throughout your workplace.
    Putting what you are sick for on sick notes is a no no here in Australia.
    Doctors certify that they saw you, and state that you were unable to attend work, and that is all the requirements needed.
    It should be YOUR choice as to whether you inform others of the reason you were off sick.

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