Earlier this week, Radio 5 Live broadcast a programme highlighting the issue of depression in sport... but focussing mainly on cricket.
Even in an age when mental illness of whatever degree is (or at least appears to be) more openly discussed, there is still a fundamental lack of under-standing about depression. This was made abundantly clear when Michael Yardy flew home from the recent cricket World Cup and ex-England opener and current pundit Geoff Boycott suggested that Yardy was depressed because he wasn’t good enough to be in the international one-day side and the reason he himself had never suffered from a similar illness was because he was a far better player. His comments were probably borne out of ignorance rather than malice and a retraction of sorts swiftly followed; the fact is that depression is an illness which doesn’t pick and choose its victims according to social status, wealth or sporting ability.
The case of Somerset batsman Marcus Trescothick brought the whole subject to public attention because he was one of the finest test players in world cricket when he quit an overseas tour to return home. There was an “old school” theory that playing for your country is an honour and therefore Trescothick should have just “got on with it”, but illness or disease does not have to be visible to have incredibly debilitating effects.
I believe that certain people may be predisposed to the condition, but there may be a link or a trigger in the game of cricket because of the length and nature of the game. The higher the level, the greater the demands (both on and off the field) and the more time you spend with team mates... and obviously less with family. Does that bond become a dependency that can have serious health implications – especially when the bond is broken by retirement? Being around a dressing room, in the company of friends and team mates possibly for many years, is a great experience even for a club cricketer like I was (or tried to be). When you stop playing though, that’s that; you can never go back or recreate the feeling you enjoyed so much for so long and the relatively recent suicides of Mark Saxelby and David Bairstow are testament to some degree of the difficulty players can have adjusting to “normal” life. Bairstow’s death is particularly poignant because his son Jonny attended my old school; he’s a fine player who is currently a regular in Yorkshire’s first team with a fantastic future ahead of him...
I am not ashamed to say that I have suffered from depression. Even when I knew I wasn’t right, I firmly believed that I should be able to carry on, but it’s a downward spiral that can only be stopped by full acceptance that you are ill and that treatment is necessary. In my case, there was a trigger and possibly a predisposition, but I ignored a great deal of sound advice (because the illness can be spotted by others much earlier than it is admitted by the sufferer) before I went to see a doctor. My symptoms were a constant feeling of pressure in my head, a sense of incredible sorrow that I just couldn’t shrug off and an ability to burst into tears without reason at regular intervals....
The treatment I received enabled me to have an objective view of my life, my problems, whatever you will and once those issues weren’t overwhelming, then it became easier to deal with them. I don’t know if it ever goes away completely, but being strong enough to be honest with yourself is the first – and the biggest – step on the road to recovery.
I have so much respect for people like Marcus Trescothick (who is pictured below) – as much as a man than as a cricketer; I didn’t have anywhere near his ability as a sportsman, but I have some understanding of the way the mind can affect the body. It was a superb programme and in an age when sport is driven by money and success, the stories of Messrs Trescothick and Yardy show that behind the professional front, there are real people, with genuine issues and raising awareness can only benefit cricketers – in fact people from all walks of life – both now and in the future...
All my own work... almost.