Cricket and depression have a dodgy past together. The two have been married since the game’s inception. Possibly because cricket is largely a mental game, it either attracts more intense personalities or places more stress on the mind, or both. Either way, those who are involved in it do suffer from depression – or other mental illness – far more often. A study in 2001 showed that English cricketers were almost twice as likely to take their own lives as the average male. Cricket has a suicide rate higher than in any other sport.
Over the past few years, more and more players have come out and admitted to suffering from depression. High-profile international sportsmen, all admitting they are sick – something that was completely taboo just a few years ago.
Graeme Fowler, a former England international and a depression sufferer, says the landscape for talking about mental health issues within the game has certainly changed.
“When I was a young player, talking about mental health issues was something which didn’t happen,” Fowler told The Daily Maverick.
“Even if you wanted to go and see a sports psychologist about your cricket, the first reaction was always to ask what’s wrong with you. That attitude has changed enormously, though. We’re still not 100% there, but I think it’s started to change because of those people who have come out and admitted to suffering with it.
“We know that cricket is a mental game; we’ve always said that. If that’s the case, then we need to look after the mentality of the players. But we’re also seeing the UK government taking a more responsible attitude towards people with mental health issues. It also helps that people are talking about it – something which things like social networks can be a catalyst for.
“I also think that if you do admit to struggling with depression or anything else, these days you are not looked upon as a lunatic anymore. This is all something which is changing, because people are talking about it more,” Fowler says.
The key theme across the board when it comes to depression and cricket is to raise awareness about it. It’s no surprise then that the Professional Cricketers’ Association in England has launched a series of tutorials to help players identify the warning signs, not only in themselves, but also in their teammates. It might seem like a simple thing to do – a series of videos and bunch of information talking people through the signs and symptoms and telling them what to do if they feel they need help. Yet it’s a giant step in the right direction, as many players previously admitted they didn’t know they weren’t well.
Players can now go online and complete a series of tutorials presented by the likes of Marcus Trescothick and Tim Ambrose – both players who have admitted to suffering from depression.
The English summer has just come to an end, and as players who haven’t got contracts out of England try and adapt to living normal lives, some may struggle to cope or find themselves battling depression.
“Cricket has one of the highest suicide rates in sport,” said PCA assistant chief executive Jason Ratcliffe.
“We ran an addictive behaviour initiative at each county for current professionals four years ago. The Mind Matters tutorials are a refresher of that content.”
The online material focuses on both symptoms of depression as well as problems that typically develop alongside, such as alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, self-harm and suicidal thoughts. The PCA is looking to spot the signs before they get out of hand, and promises help for players “within hours” if they are having suicidal thoughts.
“A programme like this will help those struggling enormously. Everybody’s depression is as individual as they are, and if people start to have these tutorials and start talking about it, it will help people who struggle, but who don’t really know why,” Fowler says.
“Looking at a tutorial might help the penny drop for some, and help them feel okay to talk about it. We need to educate players and let them know that it’s okay to have these issues and teach them how to spot potential dangers in themselves or their teammates or their family members. We can take huge strides in the right direction. Any education surrounding depression is good.”
The tutorials might have been designed for players, but in the greater scheme of things, the videos and learning material can also help other people identify symptoms they may be struggling with. The videos can be watched by anyone and, for many people, the stigma surrounding the disease has been the biggest deterrent to admitting they are sick.
Now, with leading ex-professional cricketers not only admitting to depression, but also leading talks about it, the stigma is slowly starting to disintegrate. What many might think is weak or crazy is slowly, but surely, becoming more accepted.
The PCA has taken one small step for helping its players, and a giant leap for everyone else – something which players’ associations all over the world should aim to achieve. DM
Photo: England’s Michael Yardy (R) arrives with teammate Ian Bell for a training session in Colombo March 23, 2011. Yardy was withdrawn from England’s World Cup squad as he was suffering from depression and he returned to the UK ahead of England’s ICC cricket world cup quarter final match against Sri Lanka in Colombo. Picture taken March 23, 2011. REUTERS/Philip Brown (SRI LANKA – Tags: SPORT CRICKET)
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